The Farmers’ Almanac calls for a ‘chillier’ than normal winter. Should you believe this?

A brief history of the whimsical publication’s prognostications and a check of its accuracy

KSAT 12 Meteorologist Sarah Spivey holds a copy of the Farmer's Almanac. (KSAT)

As a meteorologist, folks ask me a lot about the Farmers’ Almanac. Recently, the common question has been: “What do you think, Sarah? The Farmers’ Almanac is predicting a colder than average winter.” And it’s such a fair question! After such a hot and dry summer, we need a little relief from this heat!

But what exactly is the Farmers’ Almanac? What’s its track record for long-term forecasting? And what’s in store for this winter?

But first, I’d love if you’d answer this question! 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. So that leads us to our next question.

What does the Farmers’ Almanac predict for winter 2022-2023?

The Farmers’ Almanac predicts a “chilly” winter with “near normal” precipitation. Specifically, they say that the South Central United States, including the San Antonio area, will see “some accumulating snow, especially in early January.”

But can you trust this forecast? Let’s start by looking at the Almanac’s track record so far this year...

What’s the Farmers’ Almanac’s accuracy so far this year?

Earlier this year, the 2022 Farmers’ Almanac was predicting a winter where, “another bout of potentially frigid and flaky weather may be in store” for Texas and Oklahoma, with the potential for another major event like the February 2021 winter storm.

  • The reality of this past winter? It was actually warmer and drier than normal in San Antonio. Not really “frigid.” Sure, we had a couple of the typical cold snaps with a flurry or two, but it was definitely not a repeat of February 2021.

The Almanac also called for a summer with “broiling heat” and “normal precipitation.”

  • Kudos to the Almanac! Certainly, this summer has been very hot, even “broiling.” In fact, it’s been one of our hottest summers ever on record in San Antonio. However, in my opinion, it’s not a stretch to say that it will be “broiling” in San Antonio during any summer 😉
  • The other side of their 2022 summer forecast is completely wrong... ”normal precipitation.” It has been one of the driest summers ever in San Antonio’s history. The drought is the worst it has been since 2011. With only 5.44 inches or rain reported for the year at the time of this writing, 2022 is the driest year on record for San Antonio with records dating back to 1886.

Needless to say, although the Farmers’ Almanac can claim some wins when it comes to long-term forecasting, it has been mostly wrong for San Antonio.

So here’s why you should be cautious when reading the Farmers’ Almanac’s forecasts:

Forecast zone is too big

According to the Farmers' Almanac. This forecast zone contains over 570,000 square miles of land (Copyright 2021 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)
  • 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

  • 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.

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.
  • 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, I do understand the appeal and the nostalgia of such almanacs.

My own grandfather grew up on a farm and relied on almanacs at a time when detailed forecast information from local meteorologists wasn’t readily available. Even so, it’s my opinion that the Farmers’ Almanac shouldn’t be your first choice when it comes to forecasts in this modern age.

What will winter 2022-2023 actually look like?

Meteorological winter is defined as the months of December, January, and February.

This far out, any meteorologist worth their sand would say it’s impossible to be too specific about details in the long term.

However, because a La Niña weather pattern is ongoing, we can say that the winter in San Antonio has a good chance to be warmer and drier than average. One or two light ice events are possible too, as they are every winter.

About the Author:

Sarah Spivey is a San Antonio native who grew up watching KSAT. She has been a proud member of the KSAT Weather Authority Team since 2017. Sarah is a Clark High School and Texas A&M University graduate. She previously worked at KETN News. When Sarah is not busy forecasting, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and cat, and playing music.