WERE YOU beginning to think you were the only one doubting, these balmy November days, all those predictions that this would be a record cold winter? If so, it turns out you have company in the person of Dr. Donald L. Gilman, the National Weather Service's chief long-range forecaster, recently hailed as "the experts' expert" on the weather. "No one," says Dr. Gilman, "has any grounds for saying or flat-out implying that this will be an unusually cold winter."
So much for the Old Farmer's Almanac, which predicts a winter of "incredible" cold; so much for sun- spot watchers, who say that sun-spot activity forebodes a cold winter. Dr. Gilman says that ships running between Hawaii and Fiji have found a narrow strip of equatorial water 5 to 7 degrees warmer than usual. Ergo, the jet streams will be farther south than normal, where they will collide with and dissipate with winter storms from Siberia's Kamchatka Peninsula. The result will be cold settling in the mostly uninhabited Great Basin and Rocky Mountains areas, but a 60 to 65 percent chance of warmer-than-usual winter in the heavily populated Northeast.
Or maybe not. Actually, Dr. Gilman admits, long- range forecasting is a risky and perhaps "intrinsically impossible" business -- whatever the publishers of the Old Farmer's Almanac may say. It seems to our untutored minds to be based on a kind of determinism, an assumption that the weather for next year -- or for the year 2041 -- is already foreordained, and that we can learn what it will be if only we're clever enough.
The really tough question is whether to leave all those heavy overclothes in the closet or to get them out. For that you'll have to decide for yourself between Dr. Gilman and the Old Farmer's Almanac. Were the caterpillars in your neighborhood especially fuzzy this year? Have the squirrels been especially assiduous in plundering the next spring's tulip beds? Does your dog have a lighter- or heavier- than-usual coat? And, just what is the significance of the fact that we had a full moon on Halloween?