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Predicting winter
“The Old Farmer's Almanac” makes yearly weather predictions. Here's how winter months in recent years have panned out:
MonthAlmanac predictionAverage temperature
January 20132927.5
February 20133027.8
December 2013*2027.4
January 20122829.6
February 20122033.2
December 20123136.3
January 20112220.5
February 20112525.5
December 20113135.1
* Through Dec. 16
Source: “The Old Farmer's Almanac”
Illustration by Gregg Bender | The Journal Gazette

Chilly, for sure

Year to year, winter weather puts 'Old Farmer's Almanac' to test

For those who swear by "The Old Farmer's Almanac's" weather prediction accuracy, the nearly nine inches of snow that the Fort Wayne area got this month surely came as no surprise.

In its forecast for the winter of 2013-14, the almanac warned that the snowiest period for this part of the country will come in mid- and late December. Late January is another time to watch out.

The book, used by the early farmers to assist them in predicting the weather, separates the continental United States into 16 regions. Northern Indiana is included in Region 6, which stretches from central Illinois to Milwaukee, across the Great Lakes and going as far east as Syracuse, N.Y.

In spite of the wide area, "The Old Farmer's Almanac" nevertheless annually spouts monthly weather forecasts, and is so bold as to divide each month into days when a certain kind of weather is predicted.

The printed forecast for the region from Dec. 11 to 15 suggested rain and wet snow, with mild temperatures, and from Dec. 16 to 19 and 20 to 28 more snow and very cold.

Of course the prediction is snow and cold in Indiana. It is December, after all. One doesn't have to be a weather expert to make that kind of call.

"In a weird way, they're employing the scientific method by making note of the physical world around them," explains Jeff Logsdon, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service of Northern Indiana in Syracuse, Ind.

"You take observations of the physical world around you and you can find patterns and trends in those observations. Everything from day-to-day observations of, 'Hey, I noticed over so many years every time we got a bad winter, this happens before that.' So a lot of (predictions) are based off past trends and occurrences that have coincided with certain weather patterns."

Because December 2013 has been an accurate hit for "The Old Farmer's Almanac," the logical question is, how has the book predicted winters from recent years?

Here are a few results:

Dec. 1 to 4, 2012: Daily highs in temperatures are 61, 59, 64 and 60. The Almanac specifically called for warm and mild temperatures.

Jan. 13 and 20, 2012: A week apart, Fort Wayne International Airport records a combined 7.1 inches of snow. The Almanac predicts snow for the 12th and snowstorms between the 18th and 23rd.

December of 2011: Not once does the temperature dip into single digits, with the low of 13 degrees coming Dec. 10. The Almanac hedges its bet. It predicts that winter will be slightly milder than normal, but adds that mid-December will be one of the coldest periods. On Dec. 15, the temperature hits 58 degrees.

February of 2011: The almanac promises bitter cold in the middle of the month. On the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th of the month, evening lows are -3, -6, -13 and 3.

February of 2009: Cold is predicted for the first of the month, and the book hits the mark with lows of -1 on the 4th and 5th. The same prediction is made through the middle of February, with snow expected. Instead, Fort Wayne goes through one of the warmest February stretches in history. For 13 consecutive days, temperatures climb to 34 or above, topping out at 61 degrees Feb. 10. And as for the snow, 4.1 inches were recorded throughout the month.

January of 2009: From Jan. 13 through 21, the Almanac assured its readers that the weather through Region 6 would be mild. Here are the temperatures, in order, from Jan. 13 through 21: -1, -6, -14, -19, -13, 4, 3, -1 and 2.

Logsdon says the closer a date gets, the easier it is to predict its weather. But to predict for specific dates in 2014 when we're not even finished with 2013 is mostly guesswork.

Which leaves us with the months ahead. The almanac predicts a 30.5 average temperature for January, with a mild stretch coming between the 11th and 16th. The average predicted February temp is 29, with no severe weather expected.

"As far as pinpointing, 'hey, on this day a year ahead of time, this is what's going to happen,' I don't know if you can put much stock into that," Logsdon says. "It's kind of the old, 'well, if you make a prediction often enough, you're going to be right' kind of thing.

"I'm not sure what all goes into that detailed of prediction by them. You really can't say with any accuracy. All you can do is hindcast and say, 'Yeah, see, we predicted that.' But that doesn't take into account all those things they weren't right about."

stwarden@jg.net

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