These days, winter seems to go one of two ways: it’s either unbelievably sunny and mild, or it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum. Bitterly cold temperatures roll in, chapping skin and freezing roads. Snow piles up and grinds life to a halt too.
When determining which kind of winter will greet us, however, the forecasters behind the Farmers’ Almanac use an age-old, top secret formula. And their forecast for 2018 is not a middle-of-the-road, hot-and-cold seasonal outlook: it’s a bleak prediction of what’s ahead.
One horrible winter had preceded the foundation of the Farmers’ Almanac in 1818. Two years prior, the northeastern United States had experienced what would come to be known as the “Year Without a Summer.” Cold temperatures during that period had prevented crops from growing – a situation that obviously hit farmers hard.
With that agricultural nightmare written in the pages of history books, the Farmers’ Almanac came up with its still-secret formula for predicting the weather. Those behind the publication studied sunspots, tides and the planets to estimate how the seasons would play out in 1818 – and, eventually, beyond.
“One of the key components in our formula is the Moon and its motions,” the Almanac’s weatherperson, whose real name is kept private, has remarked on the publication’s website. “The Moon has a proven influence on the tides, and it is our belief that it may have effects on our atmosphere as well.”
The weatherperson went on, “Ocean tides can be accurately predicted, so part of our formula relies on the belief that we can line up certain weather patterns with a specific position of the Moon and its orbit.”
Even with this information, though, many of the formula’s elements are still shrouded in mystery. The Almanac’s prognosticator uses the method to forecast 16 months worth of weather, stretching from September until the end of December in the following year.
And of the prediction for one particular season, Farmers’ Almanac editor Peter Geiger has said on the periodical’s website, “Our winter outlook is a tradition that, for two centuries, has been celebrated with cheers and jeers, depending on what type of winter activity you enjoy.” He continued, “Many people are hoping they’ll need their shovels, but others are content to don their shorts all year long.”
Perhaps, then, the 2018 Almanac – the 200th publication in the book’s history – did make some people very happy. However, the forecast contained within its pages was unlikely to have enthused anyone who had wanted to spend winter donning sunglasses, enveloped in unseasonal warmth.
Why? Well, as the Almanac’s website proclaimed in its forecast for 2018, “Cold conditions are back!” It also said that eastern and central U.S. states would see their typical wintry weather, with thermometers showing low numbers all winter long.
Apparently, the formula also predicted that winter precipitation would come along with the cold. In fact, the Almanac said that there could be more snow than usual in many parts of the country, especially the area from the northeast of the U.S. to the edge of the Great Lakes.
However, the southeast didn’t get away from the Almanac’s predictions without any bad news, either. Here, temperatures should be chillier than the average winter. Even the shores of the Gulf Coast, known to be warm year-round, may see cooler weather with more snow than usual.
The only area predicted to be safe from an extra-cold, extra-snowy winter? The west coast, from the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. Although there could be moments of chill or substantial amounts of precipitation, this side of the United States should experience a mild winter on the whole.
The Almanac’s forecaster even pinpointed specific dates on which readers could expect serious snowfall. From January 20 to 23, February 4 to 7, February 16 to 19, March 1 to 3, and March 20 to 23, they suggested having a winter coat and shovel at the ready.
Of course, all of these predictions can be taken with a grain of salt. That’s because the accuracy of the Farmers’ Almanac has often been a point of debate. Indeed, although the Almanac’s website has claimed an 80 percent to 85 percent hit rate, meteorologists outside of the organization have claimed that the periodical has been right with its forecasts less than half of the time.
For instance, in 2013 The Washington Post meteorologist and weather editor Jason Samenow wrote, “Let me state emphatically that no one – with any degree of accuracy – can predict the specific days when cold snaps or storms will occur months in advance.”
Samenow went on to explain, “At best, we can offer what amounts to an educated guess as to whether an upcoming season will be cold or warm – or wet or dry – compared to normal. We’re right about these seasonal tendencies only slightly more often than we’re wrong.”
Still, some meteorologists have cautioned a guess what winter will be like in the U.S., and their predictions somewhat align with those from the Almanac. They’ve forecasted heavy snow and freezing temperatures in the northeast of the country, for starters.
In October 2017, AccuWeather forecaster Paul Pastelok also told Good Housekeeping, “This year is going to bring a good ski season in the northeast. And around the holidays we should have some snow for the interior northeast.”
Meanwhile, AccuWeather meteorologists and the Almanac have both asserted that western states will have a mild winter, although the former disagreed with the latter on the southeast’s forecast, promising a similarly warm winter. No matter which side you believe, though, one thing is certain: while it’s nice to have a general idea of what’s to come, we’ll have to wait and see what’s ahead in this season and beyond.