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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 09/15/2008

Freedman: Weather Almanacs Grapple with Warming

By Andrew Freedman

As the field of meteorology becomes more sophisticated, with technologies like phased-array radar and petascale computers, there are still some stalwarts who prefer to rely instead on offbeat techniques to predict the weather far in advance. Although most scientists deride those old-school people as rather silly, since the weather is impossible to reliably predict more than a week in advance, the purveyors of weather almanacs have had some serious staying power, tracing back more than two hundred years in some cases.

farmers-almanac.jpg
The 2009 J. Gruber's Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack. Courtesy Almanack.com.

But what happens now that their methods, which were built upon the premise that weather is cyclical, runs into global climate change, which scientists say may already be messing with weather patterns worldwide?

That's the question addressed in an interesting article in The Washington Post last week, which found that some weather almanacs are incorporating climate change into their forecasting methods, while others are pretending it doesn't exist.

Keep reading for more on almanacs in a changing climate. For the outlook through the week, see our full forecast. Also, check out NatCast for tonight's game.

As the journalist, David A. Fahrenthold, aptly put it in his story, "... for prognosticators, climate change is a problem on a much bigger scale. It threatens the very bedrock of their craft -- the prognosticator's assurance that nature is repeating itself."

I'd go a step further and say that even modern weather forecasters, who actually do employ Doppler radar and computer models, must deal with the same quandary; the nagging doubt that "normal" weather isn't so normal anymore. Integrating weather and climate information, and cross-pollinating between the related worlds of meteorology and climatology, is a key challenge for the coming years.

Fahrenthold reported that the new edition of The Old Farmer's Almanac of Dublin, N.H., which can be found next to the cash register at nearly every country store in Vermont and New Hampshire, predicts two decades of cooling instead of continued global warming. The publication uses a super double secret formula that invokes solar sunspot cycles to predict the weather far in advance.

Janice Stillman, the Almanac's editor (no relation to CWG's Dan Stillman... or maybe that's just what we want you to think...) said, "We just simply don't predict what kind of effect greenhouse gases...may have on that."

"We're looking forward to cooler than normal conditions for quite some time."

Factoring out greenhouse gas concentrations is a rather convenient way of simplifying long-range weather forecasting, don't you think?

In contrast to the Old Farmer's Almanac, Fahrenthold found that other similar publications are including climate change in their forecasts, such as "J. Gruber's Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack," which began in the late 18th century and apparently has been spelled that way ever since. The editor of that publication told the Post that he now forecasts less snow, and pushes back the date of the first snowfall to later in the year. Such adjustments are in line with the findings of some climate studies that have shown seasonal shifts have already occurred in parts of the United States, with spring arriving earlier than it used to, for example.

Even though I'm knocking some of them here because of their anemic response to climate change, almanacs are still fun, and sometimes even useful. My father, a man of medical science, continues to credit the Old Farmer's Almanac for calling Boston's infamous "Blizzard of '78" - during which my Dad lost his car for several days - accurately months in advance. Occasionally they get lucky I guess.

Sometimes even old weather wives tales ring true as well ("red sky in the morning" etc.). But so does Judge Judy's favorite saying (and title of her book), "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining." I'd modify that in this case to "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's not warming."

Perhaps we should at CWG should do an almanac and then test how correct it is. Any suggestions?

By Andrew Freedman  | September 15, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, Media, News & Notes  
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Comments

You say "weather is impossible to reliably predict more than a week in advance" and then complain that someone else's long range predictions differ from your own. Funny.

Imagine, thinking the sun may impact our weather. They must be crazy!

Posted by: Chris | September 15, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I will laugh myself silly if the Farmer's Almanac is correct on this one and you are wrong. Personally, my money is on the Farmer's Almanac.

Have you compared the recent accuracy of the Farmer's Almanac to Dr. Hansen?

You come across rather condescending with such phrases as "pretending it doesn't exist" and "super double secret formula".

You may want to tone down the condescension just in case you have to dine on crow one day in the near future.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 15, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Chris, I'm not complaining that other people's long range predictions differ from my own, because I am not making any long range weather predictions. I think you're mixing up weather and climate here. Instead, I'm discussing climate projections, which can be made into the future, whereas weather forecasts for specific dates more than a few days in advance are notoriously unreliable.

And yes, the sun is the driving force behind the earth's weather and plays a key role in regulating the planet's climate, but most of the scientific evidence shows that sunspots are not the key driver behind recent global climate change, nor are they likely to be in the near future.

Posted by: Andrew Freedman, Capital Weather Gang | September 15, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Freedman wrote, "Perhaps we should at CWG should do an almanac and then test how correct it is. Any suggestions?"

I think this is an EXCELLENT idea!! Please, please, please, please, please do it! Incorporate your theories of man made global warming into your almanac. Then this time next year we can compare the accuracy of your almanac to the Farmer's Almanac.

If you truly believe in your theories, you should have no problem making a prediction.

Please, please, please, please, please do it!

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 15, 2008 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Another reason these almanacs get so much traction is that not many people bother to verify whether their forecasts were correct. It may have already been done, but I'd be very interested in any study that takes these almanacs and compares them to the observational data. I suspect their verification statistics are quite low.

Posted by: justathought | September 15, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Almanacs need to keep in mind the cooling effects of major volcanic eruptions as well as the general effects of global warming provided we are generating such effects.

Otherwise we seem to be starting to see the same delays in restoration of essential services in Galveston and Houston that we saw in Louisiana following Katrina three years ago. It seems as though we just can't seem to snap back from a major regional disaster the way we did when I was a teen-ager during the 1960's. Back in 1961 Hurricane Carla hit the same region and I can't recall it taking sooo... long to restore power, etc. Same with Camille back in 1969 in Mississippi. Many of the deaths from Katrina occurred after the hurricane because survivors in New Orleans couldn't get basic services within 48 hours of the storm. The same thing seems to be starting to happen on the Texas Gulf Coast. Wonder how long it will take to get Houston back up to speed now. Could it be the reluctance to spend Federal/State funds that's to blame? Will this keep up over the next four years if we're stupid enough to put another penny-pinching Republican in the White House??? Perhaps McCain would respond more promptly [but I doubt it!]. That's why I'm backing Barack Obama this fall!

Posted by: El Bombo | September 15, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Some blogs, especially those addressing subjects widely considered politically controversial, are afflicted with paid trolls. Organizations holding opinions differing from those of the blog's author are thought to pay people, typically true believers of their own cause, to post combative, derisive comments designed to drive down readership by causing discomfort within the target blog's 'community'. This discomfort is thought to drive down readership because it seems to drive down comments - hence, paid trolls are seen as one possible way to diminish the message of the targeted blog.

Luckily, that would never happen at CWG! :-D

Posted by: ~sg | September 15, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

~sg wrote, "Some blogs, especially those addressing subjects widely considered politically controversial, are afflicted with paid trolls."

What is it about conspiracy theories that give them such appeal? I just don't understand that. Did you know that 25 years after Elvis' death that 8 percent of the population believe he is still alive and 11 percent aren't sure whether or not he is dead? That is almost 20 percent of the population! It scares me to think that they may be voting.

~sg wrote, "Organizations holding opinions differing from those of the blog's author are thought to pay people, typically true believers of their own cause, to post combative, derisive comments designed to drive down readership by causing discomfort within the target blog's 'community'."

What is the target community of the Washington Post?

Mr. Freedman wrote, "Perhaps we should at CWG should do an almanac and then test how correct it is."

I will applaud you if you walk it like you talk it.


Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr. Q. | September 15, 2008 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Those who hold different opinions than yours must be "paid trolls". You people are funny.

I guess I just don't get it but how the author can criticize one source for predicting future cooling as "silly" because you can't predict "weather" in advance while being ok with another source that predicts future warming because it's "climate" seems a bit disingenuous.

Posted by: Chris | September 15, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

I like almanacs. My daughter thinks the covers are pretty.

Posted by: ibid | September 15, 2008 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I have enjoyed reading almanacs for more than 40 years, not only for long range weather predictions but for a lot of other interesting trivia and useful information.

I often take the long range weather predictions or climate theories from almanacs with a grain of salt, as I also do from the so called scientific community. Why do I feel this way?

Because, I have also read and reviewed for accuracy, the predictions of the scientific community for more than 40 years. You can often flip a coin and be as accurate as either of these sources of information.

The long range package from the CPC is a JOKE if you save and review for accuracy 3-6 or 12 months later. Why do these government bureaucrats persist with this fleecing of America? Is it necessary to support the bureaucracy?

Oh, by the way Andrew, re. your preference for "don't pee on my leg and tell me it's not warming" HMMM, that has far reaching ramifications. If someone pee's on your leg while you are observing a sporting event when you are exposed to a 25 mph wind at 60F with a 40% humidity level, the evaporational cooling will quickly tell you that you were incorrect to believe that warming resulted from this anthropogenic pollution on your leg!!!!!!

For anyone concerned about this "penny-pinching Republican in the White House". Ha! and LOL. One of the main reasons that he has lost his base of support with many of the millions who put him in office, is because he has presided over spending getting out of control. But of course, most should understand that the Congress controls the purse strings unless inhibited by the veto pen of the President.

Posted by: Augusta Jim | September 15, 2008 4:13 PM | Report abuse

"justathought"

There have been several formal and informal verifications of Farmer's Almanac, including one of my own - but to avoid issues of bias, I'll cite another of the more comprehensive of these studies,

"The latest Old Farmer's Almanac is out with its usual boast of being 80% correct. But are they really that good? From what I have seen in past years their accuracy is much, much worse than advertised! How about this year? This study found that the national regional forecast for Winter had both the temperature and precipitation correct only about 13% of the time and Summer forecast was correct just 6% of the time.

The California forecasts for temperature were right only 13% of the time and the precipitation was correct 27% of the time.
(see: http://ggweather.com/farmers/2005/index.htm )

Posted by: Steve Tracton | September 15, 2008 6:10 PM | Report abuse

I just think its funny that people wouldnt expect some kind of derision in terms of response to articles on global warming.

If you had a blog on abortion would you not expect something like this?

How about a blog on immigration?

Global warming has now joined these other issues as political flashpoints, so to not expect people on here to vehemently defend their position is kinda childish.

I, like the crazy outdated almanacs that have pretty much dictated crop planting and growth for the last 200 years (150 during some kind of industrial revolution) and had some part in the vast natural wealth this country has accumulated during that time, that the weather comes in cycles. The problem with global warmitists (word?) or global changitists now is that their cycle is too short. I believe the earth has probably experienced this same cycle maybe 10000 times during its 4.5 Billion year cycle. We just havent been around to see it. Basing earth climtate hypothesis' on the last 1000, or even 10000 years seems somewhat limited to me. Then you through in what is believed to be man's knowlege of the cycle of the sun and how it impacts man's knowledge of the earth and now you are talking so many variables it is imposible to predict anything.

I am all for cutting polution over time. I am all for changing energy source over time. What I am not all for is Panic. Change cannot occur quickly without backlash. It will take generations to effect this change and in the meantime man will do what has caused man to "rule" the earth presently....it will adapt.

Posted by: PK | September 15, 2008 6:10 PM | Report abuse

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