Editor’s Note: Watch a KSAT Explains Q&A with meteorologist Sarah Spivey in the video player above.
It’s been a topic of conversation lately that this meteorologist has overheard around town: “Did you know that the Farmers’ Almanac predicted the winter storm of February 2021? And guess what? It predicts another winter storm for 2022!”
But what exactly is the Farmers’ Almanac? Did it really predict February’s winter disaster? And what’s in store for this winter, according to the Almanac? But first, I’d love if you’d answer this question below! I’m curious to know how many of our KSAT viewers trust the Farmers’ Almanac and use it regularly. It’s anonymous, by the way.
Okeydoke. With that out of the way, let’s get down to business by answering our first question.
What is the Farmers’ Almanac?
Off the bat, the first thing to know is that there are currently two publications of a “farmer’s almanac.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been in publication since 1792. Then there’s the Farmers’ Almanac, which is much newer (kidding), and has been in publication since 1818. Both publications contain what is typical of almanacs in general -- planting dates, tide tables, various astronomical and astrological information, and general weather predictions for the whole year.
Almanacs have a rich history in the United States. In fact, founding father Benjamin Franklin published an almanac of his own, Poor Richard’s Almanack, which was available for the American colonists between 1732 and 1758. Franklin’s almanac was in demand, selling an average of 10,000 copies a year.
Before modern meteorology, almanacs were one of the only ways for people to receive weather predictions, and almanacs were very popular in American homes -- especially before 1920, when most of our population lived in rural communities. Odds are your ancestors read an annual farmers’ almanac!
In addition to weather predictions, tide tables, and planting dates, both The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the Farmers’ Almanac often contain a bit of fun and whimsical reading -- poems, riddles, old-timey stories, jokes -- as well as recipes, gardening tips, and other useful information. It’s actually quite fun to flip through the pages.
Because there is such a strong tradition of almanacs in the U.S., it is still common for many to compare the local meteorologists’ forecasts to the almanac’s predictions, especially after a big weather event. So that leads us to our next question.
Did the Farmers’ Almanac really predict the February 2021 winter storm?
As you well know, from Saturday, Feb. 13, through Friday, Feb. 19, Texas was on ice as a major winter storm swept through our state. Texas experienced a power crisis due to high energy demand and a lack of winterization of the grid, which is operated by ERCOT. As a result, millions were left cold and without power, and hundreds of people died.
While the frigid cold and snowfall across Texas were well predicted by meteorologists up to a week in advance, the complete failure of the power grid was unpredictable and, ultimately, the most devastating and deadly part of the winter storm. Still, it begs the question -- “Did the Farmers’ Almanac really predict the February 2021 winter storm months in advance?”
Alrighty folks, from here on, we’ll be referencing the Farmers’ Almanac, as The Old Farmer’s Almanac didn’t even come close to “predicting” the February 2021 winter storm. On the other hand, here is the Farmers’ Almanac forecast for mid-February 2021:
“8-11: Unsettled weather Southern Plains, sleet Arkansas, Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle. Rain across central, southern Texas. 12-15: Changeable skies. 16-19: Clearing/colder. 20-23: Heavy snow eastern New Mexico, much of Oklahoma, Texas; wintry mix Arkansas, northern Louisiana. Showery southern Texas, Louisiana. Messy Mardi Gras.”2021 Farmers' Almanac, pg. 141
So there you have it! It appears like the Farmers’ Almanac does predict “heavy snow” for “much of Oklahoma, Texas.” However, this is a bit misleading for a few reasons:
The dates and information are a bit off
- In San Antonio, we had snow and temperatures as low as 9° from Feb. 13 through Feb. 19. The Almanac’s forecast for those dates calls for “changeable skies” and for the weather to be “clearing/colder.”
- According the the Almanac, the “heavy snow” should have occurred between Feb. 20 through Feb. 23. At that time in San Antonio, our high temperatures were in the 60s and 70s, with no measurable precipitation whatsoever.
- At the time of “heavy snow” for “much of Oklahoma, Texas,” the Almanac forecasts a “showery southern Texas,” which was not the case.
Forecast zone is too big
- The Farmers’ Almanac splits the nation into 7 zones, with Texas and San Antonio in the “South Central States” zone. This includes all of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana
- Think about that for a second -- that’s a single forecast for over 570,000 square miles! The weather in dry New Mexico is much different than the weather in swampy Louisiana. Even in Texas, Lubbock’s climatology is far different than Brownsville’s day-to-day weather.
- Simply put, it is impossible to give a forecast for such a large area a year in advance UNLESS...
The information is vague
- Much like a horoscope, the Farmers’ Almanac keeps its predictions as vague as possible so that it can be interpreted as true -- much like a horoscope.
- For example: To have a statement like “changeable skies” is pretty clever because it is always true! The skies change every day, even if subtly so.
- Also, the Almanac is geographically vague. When it says “heavy snow” for “much of Oklahoma, Texas” does that mean the Oklahoma and Texas border? Or all/some of Texas and Oklahoma? Again, this is very clever, but misleading.
- In contrast, meteorologists’ forecasts are often detailed and tailored to your specific location. For example, take a look at Your Weather Authority’s forecast leading up to the winter storm. And again, unfortunately, most of the horrible impacts of the winter storm were because of ERCOT’s failure to keep the lights on.
The Farmers’ Almanac doesn’t disclose its process
- The editors of the Farmers’ Almanac say they use a secret, guarded “formula” that “takes things like sunspot activity, position of the planets, tidal action of the Moon, and a variety of other factors into consideration.” They also claim that only one person with the pseudonym of “Caleb Weatherbee” knows the exact formula.
- Meanwhile, the science of meteorology is available to anyone who wants to study it. Since the mid-20th century, computers have drastically improved localized forecasts. So much so that, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a five-day forecast is correct approximately 90% of the time.
- The Farmers’ Almanac says that “our followers claim our forecasts are 80%-85% accurate.” A pretty easy claim to make when you’re the author of the almanac yourself! However, many scientific studies assess the true accuracy of almanacs at about 50%-52%. That’s basically just random chance.
What’s the bottom line?
The Farmers’ Almanac is a fun, whimsical bit of reading that provides useful information about planting dates, home and gardening tips, and is great for a laugh and that old-timey feel. However, when it comes to weather predictions and specific, detailed forecasts it should not be completely trusted. That being said, this meteorologist definitely understands the appeal and the nostalgia of such almanacs. My very own grandfather grew up on a farm and relied on almanacs at a time when widespread communication not available. And, if you’re curious...
Does the Farmers’ Almanac predict another winter storm for 2022?
According to the 2022 Farmers’ Almanac, “another bout of potentially frigid and flaky weather may be in store” for Texas and Oklahoma for the end of January. However, they are hoping that “it won’t be as robust as what occurred last year.”
So, given how vague that statement is, I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the Almanac gets it right “again” next year!