The 2014 Farmers’ Almanac hits newsstands today and, not surprisingly, the publishers are trying to drum up some interest in the 197-year-old publication by touting its forecast of a cold winter and a snowy Super Bowl in East Rutherford, NJ. The borderline crackpot “Storm Bowl” forecast is based on a “secret formula” that relies on planetary positions, sunspots and lunar cycles. Supposedly, the forecast formula has not changed much since founder David Young first published the almanac in 1818.
Here’s our take on your basic Farmers’ Almanac forecast: it’s mostly based on climatology with some vague predictions thrown in for good measure. Thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, we are able to look at some of the forecasts from the Farmers’ Almanac for the Northeast and compare them with what actually happened. First, the Almanac forecasters are claiming victory on the February snowstorm that buried Southern New England on Feb 8-9 by saying that they missed it by just a couple of days. Here is the Almanac forecast for Feburary:
4th-7th. A sharp cold front brings gusty winds, rain, and snow showers.
8th-11th. Unsettled; light snow and flurries.
12th-15th. Major Northeast snowstorm develops: some accumulations could exceed one foot; strong winds cause considerable blowing of snow.
16th-19th. Lingering snow showers, flurries.
20th-23rd. Blustery and cold.
24th-28th. A major storm over the ocean perhaps brushes the coast with light snow and gusty winds, then turning fair.
It’s clear to see that they forecasted a major Northeastern snowstorm in the middle of the month. The storm hit on the 8th, and they’re claiming their forecast was accurate – even though their range was from the 12th-15th. By their logic, the storm could have occurred between February 8-19 and they would have “just missed it”. HELLO! IT’S FEBRUARY IN THE NORTHEAST! The odds of a snowstorm in that 12-day stretch are pretty high!
More recently, here is the Farmers’ Almanac forecast for June 2013 in the Northeast, combined with what actually occurred in Southern New England.
|Prediction||Actual SNE Weather|
|1st-3rd. Skies clear across the Northeast.||Heavy rain on June 3|
|4th-7th. Wet; big thunderstorms for Mid-Atlantic States.||Dry 4-6, heavy rain on June 7|
|8th-11th. Mostly fair. Looks like a dry track for the Belmont Stakes.||3″ rain in Providence. 4-5″ of rain prior to the Stakes|
|12th-15th. Showers for much of the Northeast, then fair.||Dry 12th, wet 13-14, dry 15th – is that forecast right? Who knows?|
|16th-19th. A spell of fine, dry weather.||Showers June 17-19|
|20th-23rd. Heavy rains, then fair.||All four days dry|
|24th-27th. Hot and dry, followed by thunderstorms, especially across Maryland and Pennsylvania.||Hot 24-25, cool and showery on June 27|
|28th-30th. Mostly fair and hot again.||Near normal temps, rain all three days|
It is fair to say the accuracy of this forecast wasn’t particularly high. But, if you want to make the case that it was sort of right at times, you can. And that is the real “secret formula” the Farmers’ Almanac uses – leave enough ambiguity in your prediction that it makes it easier to claim some accuracy after the fact.
The bottom line is don’t read too much into a prediction of a snowy Super Bowl near New York City on February 2, 2014. Climatologically, it is near the snowiest time of the year in New York. Predicting a snowstorm around that time is not much of a stretch, especially when they’ll say they “just missed it” if the storm comes a week early or a week late.