While it’s still summer nationwide, and many states are grappling with record heat, some are already looking ahead to winter. And if you’re tired of the heat, the forecasting from the Farmers’ Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac is looking good for you.
But can you really trust the extended forecasts from the almanacs?
Like many things, “there are those who believe [them] and those who don’t,” Rich Segal, meteorologist at Nexstar’s KXAN explains.
If you’re unfamiliar, the Farmers’ Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac are periodicals that share information on gardening, forecasts for skywatchers, and the widely enjoyed extended forecasts.
These forecasts are often released well in advance of the months they cover. The Farmers’ Almanac recently released its winter forecast for 2023-24, while the Old Farmer’s Almanac will do the same in about three weeks.
Both publications, which claim to be 80% accurate with their forecasts (research shows only about half of the forecasts produced by the Farmers’ Almanac were correct), rely on secret formulas to create their predictions. The Old Farmer’s Almanac says its formula, created in 1792, uses solar science (observing sunspots and solar activity), climatology, and meteorology to develop its long-range forecasts. They compare “solar patterns and historical weather conditions with current solar activity.”
The Farmers’ Almanac says it does not use “computer satellite tracking equipment, weather lore, or groundhogs,” but instead employs “a specific and reliable set of rules” developed in 1818. It “takes into consideration things like sunspot activity, tidal action of the Moon, the position of the planets, and a variety of other factors,” the publication explains. Forecasts are also reportedly calculated two years in advance.
That far-ahead planning is what makes many hesitate with relying on these long-range predictions.
“It’s more like a crapshoot of trusting something that far into the future since there are times the forecast is blown in the first 24 hours,” Segal says.
The National Weather Service, for example, doesn’t release a winter weather forecast until mid-October, Jon Gottschalck, Operational Prediction Branch Chief at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, tells Nexstar. Any earlier and the forecast’s reliability would likely drop. Even a forecast in October is subject to change.
The forecasts produced by the National Weather Service for a season won’t predict exact events, like snowstorms. As Gottschalck says, “It’s just not possible to do that.” You’ll also only find temperature and precipitation outlooks from NOAA, which show the probability of either based on historical data and current conditions.
NOAA, the Farmer’s Almanac, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac do review some of the same factors.
Currently, the most apparent is the El Niño climate pattern that we’re in.
El Niño conditions arrived early this year, and it’s expected to remain strong through the winter. Typically, El Niño brings cold, wet winters to states in the South and rain across the Southwest and California. States in the Pacific Northwest, Ohio Valley, northern Rockies, and most of the Midwest usually experience warm, dry winters. Hawaii often sees below-average rain through fall, winter, and spring seasons because of El Niño.
Still, NOAA warns that these exact scenarios may not play out perfectly.
The Farmers’ Almanac and the Old Farmer’s also rely on sunspot activity when crafting their predictions. The Sun is currently a few years into an 11-year solar cycle in which it flips its magnetic poles. This can cause space weather, which can lead to stunning Northern Lights shows visible on Earth or disruptions to radio transmissions and power grids.
There is not, however, a direct link between a sunspot and temperatures on Earth, Greg Kopp, a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics tells Live Science.
So can you trust the almanac predictions? Ultimately, it’s up to you.
“It has its value to those who believe in it and subscribe as such,” Segal says. NOAA will have an outlook for the winter months — December, January, and February — in mid-October. Its current three-month outlook is for August, September, and October.
Alix Martichoux contributed to this report.