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

Freedman: Weather Almanacs Grapple with Warming

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.


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  |  11:00 AM ET, 09/15/2008

Categories:  Climate Change, Climate Change, Climate Change, Climate Change

 
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