TEXAS (KAMR) — With the impact of El Niño weather conditions becoming more apparent as the United States heads toward the start of winter, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released its forecast for the next three months, which many will use to plan their holiday travels.
But some others already have their holiday plans set after consulting the Farmers’ Almanac and Old Farmer’s Almanac forecasts that were released during the summer.
There’s just one thing: the forecasts from NOAA and the almanacs don’t quite line up — meaning one group of holiday planners might be expecting a significantly different winter than the other.
As of November 2023, how do the extended forecasts from NOAA and the almanacs compare? Which one should potential holiday travelers consider before settling on plans for the rest of the year?
What’s the weather looking like?
According to the most recent extended forecast from NOAA, most of the US is expected to be in for an above-average winter in 2023, with particularly warm and dry conditions anticipated in New England and the Pacific Northwest. Overall, most of the country is not forecasted to see much in the way of early winter snows, and much of the northern half is leaning toward the possibility of having less precipitation in general.
Meanwhile, in the southern US, NOAA said that the Gulf, Texas, and the Southeast are likely to see a particularly wet winter, even after the end of hurricane season. Temperatures have equal chances of being average, above average, or below average for that swath of the country as well.
NOAA noted that these patterns appear to be in line with the expected impact of a strong El Niño weather pattern, which will likely peak later in winter. During an El Niño winter, the southern third to half of the US tends to get more precipitation while the Pacific Northwest and the Ohio Valley tend to be drier and warmer.
The Farmers’ Almanac predicted that “The BRRR is Back!” for the winter of 2023-24, in the meantime. Most of the US was predicted by the Farmers’ Almanac to experience a cold season with average or above-average precipitation, ranging from a cold and stormy winter in the midwest to an unseasonably cold and stormy season in Texas.
“There are indications that an El Niño, will be brewing in the latter half of 2023, lasting into the winter of 2024,” the Farmers’ Almanac said. “If we consider that alongside our tried-and-true forecast formula, it means that cold temperatures should prevail throughout the country and bring snow, sleet, and ice.”
Similarly, the Old Farmer’s Almanac predicted “snow, seasonable cold, and all of winter’s delights!” for the US through the winter of 2023-24. The Old Farmer’s Almanac forecasted that snowfall would be above normal for most snow-prone areas outside the Pacific Northwest, with early snows in the Northeast and Midwest as early as November.
Further, the Old Farmer’s Almanac predicted that there would be normal to colder-than-normal temperatures in areas that typically receive snow, with New England and the Atlantic Corridor standing as exceptions with a generally milder season. Meanwhile, the almanac also predicted wetter weather for parts of the Deep South, Texas, and California.
While all three of these forecasts acknowledge the potential impact of El Niño, the almanacs varied from NOAA in their predictions of general temperature and precipitation patterns; albeit both almanacs also had the benefit of using a timeframe and language broader in scope than the NOAA extended forecast.
Why do these three popular outlooks differ so much, and how should that impact what people take from them?
What’s the deal with the almanacs?
A few significant reasons that the almanacs differ from the NOAA with their forecasts are when and how those forecasts are created.
The Farmers’ Almanac, which began in 1818, claims that it uses a secret formula for its forecasts that “incorporates many of the various techniques mentioned here, as well as sunspot activity, tidal action of the Moon, the position of the planets, and more.”
The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which began in 1792, claims that its forecasts are created by using “three scientific disciplines to make long-range predictions: solar science, the study of sunspots and other solar activity; climatology, the study of prevailing weather patterns; and meteorology, the study of the atmosphere.”
How do those methods hold up?
Granted, the almanacs and NOAA both recognize that weather forecasting is, to some degree, an educated guess. However, as noted in William Sherden’s “The Fortune Sellers: The Big Business of Buying and Selling Predictions,” even the most spectacular forecast from the Old Farmer’s Almanac was a spectacular fluke.
During the compilation of the issue that included the forecast for July 1816, editor Robert Thomas came down with an illness. While he was out of the office, a mischievous copyboy printed in several issues that there would be “rain, hail and snow” on July 13, 1816. Thomas was reportedly furious when he found out, naturally, and destroyed most of the hoax copies; However, New England that year was actually in store for a summer of freak weather.
Because of the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the East Indies, noted Sherden, New England was visited by a cooling dust cloud that kicked off a “Little Ice Age” during that 1816 summer, in which it was reported that ponds and lakes froze over and never thawed. With a bombastic, “I told you so!” Thomas later claimed the copyboy’s prank was his own forecast, as a point of credibility to the almanac.
That may also be one of the more notable recorded instances of either the Old Farmer’s Almanac or the Farmers’ Almanac changing its mind. The Farmers’ Almanac claims its forecasts are calculated two years in advance.
“Unlike your local news, government, or commercial weather service, the Almanac’s forecasts are calculated two years in advance,” said the Farmers’ Almanac on its website, “Once the new edition is printed, the editors never go back to change or update its forecasts the way other local sources do.”
However, those forecasts not updating regularly with new information may do more harm than good to those who choose to heavily depend on them.
Long-term forecasting in Texas
Even just in the Texas Panhandle, weather conditions in Amarillo varied drastically from day to day: on Oct. 22 the area reached a high of over 90 degrees, and on Oct. 29 the highest temperature was barely above freezing. Further, temperatures around the High Plains region are desert-like, where it’s possible to see temperatures drop 40 degrees in a matter of hours – such as on Oct. 8 – and go from scorching afternoons to freeze warnings within a few days.
These extreme changes in temperature impact houseplants and crops, livestock, air quality, event scheduling, and more — and as noted in previous reports, those changes, let alone significant events like storms, can’t be accurately predicted at long ranges.
“It’s more like a crapshoot of trusting something that far into the future since there are times the forecast is blown in the first 24 hours,” noted Rich Segal, meteorologist at Nexstar’s KXAN News in Austin, after the Farmer’s Almanac released its 2023-2024 winter predictions.
Both the Old Farmer’s Almanac and the Farmers’ Almanac claim a general accuracy of around 80% for their long-term forecasts. However, neither explicitly detail how they calculate that estimate, and multiple studies have reported that only about 50% of the forecasts from the Farmers’ Almanac are notably accurate.
Long-term forecasts such as those calculated by the almanacs are also having their accuracy threatened by drastic changes in historical weather trends and climate. As noted by the Farmers’ Almanac in its review of its own winter 2022-23 forecast, communities across the US both experienced the coldest wind chill ever recorded in the country as well as record heat levels in many areas. The Farmers’ Almanac said that the unpredictable weather was caused by a combination of climate change, influences of the polar vortex, and the unexpected end of La Niña.
As noted in previous reports, 2023 so far is on track to be the warmest year ever recorded, with five months in a row as of October being reported as the hottest of each on the global record.
According to Peter Schlosser, vice president and vice provost of the Global Futures Laboratory at Arizona State University, the warming of the planet will mean more extreme and intense weather events going forward because of the impact of climate change.
Meanwhile, reports from the Associated Press have noted that a majority of people in the U.S. have experienced extreme weather events in the last year, and that extreme weather events have increased to a frequency of around once every two weeks.
This means that as extreme weather events and drastic changes become more frequent, long-term forecasts may be less reliable. While NOAA releases seasonal outlooks much closer to the time frame they’re predicting (such as releasing the winter outlook in mid-October), the forecasts are still subject to changes for accuracy, while the almanacs are set in stone once they’re published.
While it remains to be seen exactly what the weather will bring for the end of the year and into 2024, those more consistent updates may be a reason to consider forecasts from NOAA and local meteorologists before making travel plans, even for those faithful to the almanacs.