LEWISTON, Maine — 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 percent 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.
In contrast, the usually wet Pacific Northwest could be a bit drier than normal in February.
Looking ahead to summer, the almanac foresees near-normal temperatures in most places. But much of the Southwest can look forward to unusually hot weather in June and July, while Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas will be hit with oppressive July heat and humidity.
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.
The almanac and the weather service are in sync, however, in pointing to a chance of a drier winter in the Northwest.
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.
Geiger sticks to his guns, however, noting that the almanac was on target in the 2008 edition when it called for the Northeast and the Great Lakes to be hit with a long, cold winter with lots of snow. He also says readers often check out Weatherbee’s forecasts before planning weddings and other special events, and they seem to be pleased with the results.
In a nod to couples whose weddings were dogged by disastrous weather, the 2008 almanac invited readers to share their stories in a Worst Wedding Weather Contest. Joe and Marianne Trovato of Bensalem, Pa., won a weeklong cruise with their account of how their Feb. 12, 1983, wedding had to be postponed when Philadelphia was hit with its worst snowstorm in decades. The couple managed to pull everything together to allow the wedding to take place the next week.
The almanac, not to be confused with the New Hampshire-based Old Farmer’s Almanac which is 26 years older, claims a circulation of about 3½ million. Most are sold to banks, insurance companies and other businesses that give them away as a goodwill promotion. Other versions are sold by retailers in the U.S. and Canada.
Circulation has dropped in recent years, a reflection of a trend that affects many print publications. But the almanac has been increasing emphasis on its online site and also offers a half-hour program that airs weekly on about 90 percent of the nation’s public television stations.
However, some aspects of the almanac never change. The 2009 retail edition has the usual mix of helpful hints, recipes, gardening tips, riddles, anecdotes, corny jokes and inspirational messages.
If there’s a theme to this year’s almanac, it’s the emphasis it places on environmental awareness, frugality and living a sustainable life. There are articles on water conservation, natural cures and preventions for colds and other illnesses, and how to grow food without a yard.
Other feature articles range from the benefits of gas-sipping motor scooters and learning to live in harmony with bears, alligators and other wild neighbors to a Wisconsin Indian tribe’s turtle-shaped school that reflects a commitment to the environment.