The Farmers’ Almanac outrageous forecast: a frigid, snowy winter and stormy Super Bowl

The Farmers’ Almanac is generating a tremendous amount of buzz around a “C-O-L-D” winter forecast.  And it’s ratcheting up the hype by forecasting a “Super Storm” for Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.  But its forecast is baseless and lacks credibility.

The Farmers’ Almanac forecast: “biting, bitterly and piercing”

If you believe it, residents of the Plains to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast may want to start stocking up on warm weather gear, snow shovels, and salt right now! The Farmers’ Almanac is calling for a “bitterly cold” winter for much of the region.

“Yes, the Farmers’ Almanac believes that the “days of shivery” are back,” says the Farmer’s Almanac press release.

(Farmers' Almanac)

(Farmers’ Almanac)

For residents of the Mid-Atlantic into southern New England, prepare to get dumped on by loads of the white stuff (or buckets of cold rain).

“….southern New England, Southeast New York, New Jersey, and down through the Mid-Atlantic region will be seeing either copious rains and/or snows,” the Almanac says.

The February 2, 2014 Super Bowl or Storm Bowl?

“We are forecasting stormy weather for this, the biggest of sporting venues,” the Almanac’s Web site says.

Almanac managing editor Sandi Duncan is already naming Super Bowl XLVIII the “Storm Bowl.”

The decision to make MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands home for the Super Bowl was a controversial one.  Critics say cold could make for an uncomfortable fan experience and a storm could be a nightmare for travelers. In early February, cold snaps and snowstorms are common in the region.

Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco called the cold weather Super Bowl concept “stupid” .

Flacco may be considered a genius if the Farmers’ Almanac forecast is right.

“…fans, players, and travelers alike may want to leave a few days early and pack extra warm, waterproof weather gear,” the Almanac’s press release advises.

(It’s a nice coincidence the Super Bowl occurs on Groundhog Day. The rodent and Farmers’ Almanac have about the same forecasting credibility…)

Take the Almanac with a huge grain of salt

I always enjoy reading forecasts from the Farmers’ Almanac as well as it chief competition The Old Farmer’s Almanac.  But I put little to no stock in their forecasts.

Related: Probing Question: Is the Farmers’ Almanac accurate? (Penn State)

Both Almanacs claim high accuracy rates (around 80 percent) but have never published evidence backing them up. They lack transparency and keep their methods “closely guarded“.

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.

Related: Accuweather: You cannot be serious (new 45-day forecasts)

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.

Related: Long-term weather forecasts are a long way from accurate

The Almanac’s 2012-2013 performance: not so good

The Farmers’ Almanac forecast for last winter was less than stellar.  It called for cold weather in the East and mild weather in the West.

(Farmers' Almanac)

(Farmers’ Almanac)

The opposite occurred. The eastern two-thirds of the U.S. had a milder than normal winter and it was cooler than average in parts of the West.

(NOAA)

Temperatures compared to normal December 2012 through February 2013 (NOAA)

Its forecast for above average precipitation in the East and average to dry conditions in the West was better than its temperature forecast but off on some details.

(NOAA)

Precipitation compared to normal December 2012 to February 2013 (NOAA)

Of course, the Almanac’s self-evaluation of last winter’s outlook completely leaves out the fact it got temperatures totally wrong and, instead, chooses to boast that it “red-flagged” the time frames for two winter storms that affected the East Coast.

“…the anticipated systems came only about 1 to 3 days earlier than forecasted,” the Almanac writes.

Nevermind that stormy weather tends to hit the East Coast every 3-5 days in the winter, so forecasting  storminess within 1 to 3 days of its occurrence is no great feat!

It’s using this same trick in its forecast for the Super Bowl in 2014.

“But even if we are off by a day or two with the timing of copious wind, rain, and snow, we wish to stress that this particular part of the winter season will be particularly volatile and especially turbulent,” it writes with respect to its “Super Storm” forecast.

Again, this is not a huge stretch – since storms cycle through the region every few days and early February is historically a stormy time.

Winter 2013-2014: What does CWG think?

Setting aside the fact the Farmers’ Almanac claim it can predict the timing of storms is not credible, you may wonder, can we agree with its forecast for a frigid, snowy winter?

Not at this point.

“I think it’s way too early to say one way or the other what the winter will be like, ” said Wes Junker, CWG’s winter weather expert. “There are no strong signals.”

We typically wait to issue our winter outlook until around Halloween – a time at which we can better assess atmospheric patterns and offer a sense of the winter might be like.  And, even then, we heavily qualify our winter outlook as seasonal forecasting is still in its infancy.

In the coming weeks, you’ll continue to see forecasts from other almanacs and organizations.  Feel free to read them for entertainment value, but – in my opinion – only a fool would take them seriously.

Here’s a great related post by Dan Satterfield, broadcast meteorologist in Salisbury: Note To CBS: This is NOT News, It’s Make Believe.

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