'Farmer's Almanac' Predicts A Cold Winter, But ...

It's a classic, throwback battle between the traditionalists and the cool-headed rationalists, but who would you rather side with? I'm talking about Farmer's Almanac, the long-running, down-home guide to seasonal weather. It's a rather beloved text for those who believe in it, even though the modern age of climatology has more or less left its predictions in the dust. This year, the Almanac has a chilly prediction: 2015 is going to have a very cold winter. But experts sharply disagree.

Here's the undeniable thing: Texts like the Farmer's Almanac (or the Old Farmer's Almanac, its chief competitor — which is also predicting chilly months ahead) can't hold a candle to modern forecasting, as far as accountability goes. While climatology and meteorology make use of the most advanced technology available to tell us what's likely to happen, these almanacs purport to be able to forecast weather for a full year at a time.

And in the case of this winter, the divide between the Almanac's opinion and the expectations of experts is pretty sharp — while the former predicts things to be especially frigid, the latter keep telling us that it could actually be warmer than usual. And there's a familiar reason for this: We could see a record-setting El Niño this winter. That would make for a blustery, rain-soaked season throughout parts of California, and a warmer-than-usual season throughout much of the United States.

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So, who you got? The centuries-old tome or cutting-edge technology? It's not much of a contest, as far as transparency goes, that's for sure. It's no mystery how observers like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) track El Niño, but the Farmer's Almanac is all about mystery. Here's how its prediction process is described on its official website:

The Farmers’ Almanac weather predictions are based on a secret mathematical and astronomical formula. Developed in 1818 by David Young, the Almanac‘s first editor, this formula takes many factors into consideration, including sunspot activity, moon phases, tidal action, and more. This carefully guarded formula has been passed along from calculator to calculator and has never been revealed.
The only person who knows all the details of our formula is Caleb Weatherbee, our esteemed weather prognosticator. The formula itself is locked in the heart and mind of its calculator. While Caleb is a real person who lives somewhere in the United States, his true identity and name are secret.

Needless to say, this isn't exactly the strongest pitch. A secret formula unknown to all but one — a mysterious man of indeterminate location who goes by a pseudonym ("Caleb Weatherbee")? It's no satellite imagery of sea-surface temperature, that's for sure.

The allure makes sense, though. There's something kind of romantic and evocative about getting your weather forecasts from a centuries-old method that nobody knows. But if you want to prepare for weather events to come, you really ought to check out some more explicable sources. Maybe give the aforementioned NOAA a try, or the National Weather Service. Obviously, mysterious weather prediction methods can be fun, but they tend to be a little lacking in the accountability department.