Brrr! Farmers' Almanac says cold winter ahead
Households worried about the high cost of keeping warm this winter will draw little comfort from the Farmers' Almanac, which predicts below-average temperatures for most of the U.S.
"Numb's the word," says the 192-year-old publication, which claims an accuracy rate of 80 to 85 percent for its forecasts that are prepared two years in advance.
The almanac's 2009 edition, which goes on sale Tuesday, says at least two-thirds of the country can expect colder than average temperatures, with only the Far West and Southeast in line for near-normal readings.
"This is going to be catastrophic for millions of people," said almanac editor Peter Geiger, noting that the frigid forecast combined with high prices for heating fuel is sure to compound problems households will face in keeping warm.
The almanac predicts above-normal snowfall for the Great Lakes and Midwest, especially during January and February, and above-normal precipitation for the Southwest in December and for the Southeast in January and February. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions should be getting an unusually wet or snowy February, the almanac said.
The forecasts, which are spelled out in three- and four-day periods for each region, are prepared by the almanac's reclusive prognosticator Caleb Weatherbee, who uses a secret formula based on sunspots, the position of the planets and the tidal action of the moon.
Weatherbee's outlook is borne out by e-mail comments that the almanac has received in recent days from readers who have spotted signs of nature that point to a rough winter, Geiger said. The signs range from an abundance of acorns already on the ground to the frequency of fog in August.
The almanac's winter forecast is at odds with that of the National Weather Service, whose trends-based outlook calls for warmer than normal temperatures over much of the country, including Alaska, said Ed O'Lenic, chief of the operations branch at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
While he wouldn't comment specifically on the almanac's ability to forecast the weather two years from now, O'Lenic said it's generally impossible to come up with accurate forecasts more than a week in advance.
"Of course it's possible to prepare a forecast with any lead time you like. Whether or nor that forecast has any accuracy or usable skill is another question," he said.