The Old Farmer's Almanac claims its "weather" predictions are 80 percent accurate--using a secret formula created back about 1800, and still employed. However, a University of Illinois professor of atmospheric science conducted a study which concluded the Almanac's predictions were on average only 51 percent accurate. A simple flip of the coin will give you the same probability--essentially random chance. Hello! The Almanac is a for-profit business trying to get you to buy/use their service. Popular Mechanics claims the Almanac's predictions "are full of crap." Many other sources agree with the assessment. It is impossible to predict the weather accurately beyond a few days--occasionally, with stable conditions, maybe a week. Even the experts (trained and seasoned meteorologists) often get the forecast wrong only a few hours out. Part of the problem is: (1) the pronouncements from the soothsayers (forecasters) are too specific and (2) we get fixated on the average, which for gardening is essentially worthless. Moreover, it is especially more difficult to predict precipitation when compared to temperature.
So why do so many of us keep referring to and believing in the predictions? The answer is simple--apprehension, ignorance, tradition and gullibility. We tend to believe things that we want to be true regardless of facts and regardless of reality. We want to believe what we want to believe, and we want to be told what we want to believe. Not what I wanted to hear--sound familiar? We want consistency, predictability, convenience and control of our world, even if that is sometimes a pipe dream. Knowing the unknowable--foretelling the future. The seasonal predictions offered up by the Farmer's Almanac falsely offer just that. Should you be surprised? No. Just think of all the crazy ideas people believe in and promulgate--all the incredible superstition and supernatural mumbo jumbo--and how susceptible we are to brainwashing (i.e., social conditioning and slick advertising). One can get into a pretty heated argument attempting to use facts and reality to persuade someone to the contrary. I devoted an entire 20-page chapter (4 - Plant and Gardening Myths) debunking such falsehoods. Chapter 12 (Weather and Climate) has many additional reality checks, and many of my monthly rants, like this one, hone in on faulty reasoning, call out bad (ill-advised) practices and promote rational thought and behavior. I recommend you give it a read. Again, beyond general seasonal change (e.g., colder in winter, warmer in summer, hurricane season, etc.), it is impossible to accurately predict weather (as the Almanac calls it) months in advance. Weather is variable and not preordained. A cornbread or soup recipe 200-years-old might be good, but it is absurd to think an ancient "secret" weather formula is relevant--it predates modern forecast meteorology by almost a century!
FYI - Weather is what is happening now and in the very near future (a few hours to several days) whereas climate is what will happen in the future beyond. Moreover, meteorology and climatology are inexact sciences--requiring conjecture and estimation. The good news is we are getting much better at predicting, but it is still just an educated guess. Unfortunately, the more accurate and fluid predictions (based on recent historical trends) regarding atmospheric and surface temperature changes and the related ocean levels over the next century are not favorable, and we may not be able to stop or reverse the changes.
NEXT month: USDA Zone Hardiness Map