The Farmers’ Almanac calls for an ‘unseasonably cold’ winter. Should you believe this?

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

Snow at the Alamo in February 2021. (William Caldera, KSAT 12)

Short answer: No.

Now, here’s the long answer:

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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?

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 2023-2024?

The Farmers’ Almanac predicts an “unseasonably cold, stormy” winter.

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 2023 Farmers’ Almanac predicted a “chilly” winter with “near normal” precipitation. Specifically, they said that the South Central United States, including the San Antonio area, would see “some accumulating snow, especially in early January.”

  • The reality of this past winter? It was actually warmer and drier than normal in San Antonio. And as for “accumulating snow” in “early January” we didn’t see any frozen precipitation for the entire month of January 2023. In fact, we only saw the temperature dip below freezing TWICE for the whole month.
  • With only 2.17″ of rainfall this past winter, we certainly did not see “near normal” precipitation. Our winter had a nearly 3-inch deficit.

Needless to say, the Farmers’ Almanac has been mostly wrong for San Antonio.

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

The 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 seven 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 2023-2024 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 we have switched from a La Niña to an El Niño weather pattern, there is hope for a little more rain. Also, as is normal every winter, one or two light ice events are possible too.

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 KTEN News. When Sarah is not busy forecasting, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and cat, and playing music.

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