The snake oil of weather forecasting
By Brad Spakowitz
My career in meteorology spans some four decades, and much has changed in the science of weather during that time.
Forecasts have truly gotten better, even in the longer-range, which is defined as 7 to 10 days out.
These better, more dependable forecasts are the result of decades of hard scientific research and study by dedicated individuals much, much smarter than myself.
We are grateful for their work, since reliable weather forecasts help us plan our lives, activities and travel, and help keep us safe.
But, you have to be careful where you get your weather information.
Since almost everyone wants it, there are plenty of places willing to sell weather forecasts in various ways.
And that is why, as a member in good standing of both The American Meteorological Society and The National Weather Association, it is my duty to expose two charlatans and conmen of the weather world.
The list of questionable forecasting methods is lengthy: Red skies in the morning rings around the moon, woolly bear caterpillars, groundhogs and various other plants and animals claiming an accurate forecast.
But the most popular weathermen wannabes, The Farmer’s Almanac – and its competitor, The Old Farmer’s Almanac have become established experts in pseudoscience.
Also, these are two separate publications, so don’t get them mixed up.
These yearly offerings have been around for 200 years, and include all sorts of tidbits, humor and old proverbs about gardening, fishing, astronomy, holidays, and of course, weather.
Every year, when the two publications release their winter weather predictions, they get all sorts of media attention.
More than they deserve for certain because both admit to using top-secret formulas with some highly unusual variables like sunspot activity, the tug of the moon, the position of the planets and other factors.
These publications try to add scientific credibility by including the words “climatology” and “meteorology” into the mix, but the whole thing just smacks of snake oil of the 1800s.
But, just this once, I’ll play along.
So what are the two almanacs’ predictions for the coming winter here in Northeast Wisconsin?
The Farmer’s Almanac says prepare for a “Frosty Flip-Flop Winter.”
January will be cold and snowy; February will be milder with less snow overall, but the end of the month could bring a big storm nearby.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac features a whopper headline: “A Season of Shivers,” indicating we will have a longer and colder winter.
It also describes the season as “wet.”
Interestingly, it chose the word wet and not snowy because cold air would imply snow.
At any rate, there you have it.
I just saved you a few extra dollars at the grocery store checkout line.
But let’s be honest, even a fortune teller would probably look up from her crystal ball and say, “I see cold and I see snow.”
I’ll go one better.
In almanac fashion, here’s my winter weather prediction:
December starts out mild, but as the year-end approaches, a definite more winter-like chill is in the air.
Any early month bouts of mixed precipitation have now become mostly snow.
Snow will fall at times in January.
Temperatures will be mostly near normal, but there will be a few days warmer than average, and also a few days colder than average.
A short blast of icy cold air could set in late in the month, or early to mid-February.
Otherwise, February will be pretty much as it typically is, though by late month a moderation in temperature unfolds.
March will bring a feeling of spring, though some snow may still fall.
Sounds detailed and brilliant, but here’s the kicker, it pretty much describes every winter around here.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its official winter outlook next month.
When I find out the details, I’ll share what the real weather experts think about the coming winter.
To read Brad Spakowitz’s article from August, CLICK HERE.