Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Farmers' Almanac Winter Forecast is Malarkey

The Farmers' Almanac just released its winter forecast for 2017, so I thought it would be a good time to see how their winter 2016 forecast did last year. From August 2015:
It’s not what Bostonians want to hear: The Farmer’s Almanac says another rough winter is in your stars.

A year after Boston was pummeled with the snowiest winter on record, editors of the Maine-based publication have dubbed their latest forecast a “winter deja vu,” hearkening to last winter’s misery across the Northeast.

Using a formula built on sunspots, moon phases and tidal action, the 199-year-old almanac that hits newsstands this week predicts cold and snowy weather from Maine to Montana.
Though meteorologists immediately blasted the Almanac forecast as about as accurate as a Magic 8 Ball, even PBS covered it as news. Meanwhile, scientists at NOAA predicted a winter that was warmer and wetter than average. So did AccuWeather.

So what actually happened?
December through February, a three-month period known as "meteorological winter," has shattered warm and wet records in 2015-2016 from New England to the Southeast, Midwest, Plains and West.
Basing your long-range weather forecast on sunspots is like basing your climate change outlook on the moon. When journalists repeat those guesses as news, they're doing a disservice to actual science.

News outlets also uncritically repeat the Almanac's claim to 80% accuracy. But that assertion is no more reality-based than its actual forecasts:
The Old Farmer's Almanac claims "many longtime Almanac followers claim that our forecasts are 80% to 85% accurate." This is simply a claim and not the actual accuracy. John Walsh, University of Illinois Atmospheric Sciences professor emeritus, reviewed the accuracy of five years of monthly forecasts from 32 weather stations around the county and found 50.7% of the monthly temperature forecasts and 51.9% of precipitation forecasts to correctly predict a deviation from averages.
50 percent - you could get just as accurate a guess by flipping a coin.

What do the fortune tellers at the Almanac have to say about winter 2017?
[Y]ou better start preparing because according to the Long Range Weather Forecast released by The Old Farmer's Almanac, this one is going to be a real doozy.

Every region of the U.S. will be hit with a different type of terrible. The Northeast and Midwest can expect "colder than normal" temperatures and precipitation is supposed to be "above normal."
Here in New England, the Farmers' Almanac is geared toward a certain type of yankee who, every single year, thinks god will surely punish us for our sin of enjoying summer by smiting us with a horrible winter. To get those folks to buy your almanac, you need to make sure every winter forecast fulfills that fervor.
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