Almanac weather predictions spot on

Farmers’ Almanac Editors Peter Geiger and Sandi Duncan. Photo from farmersalmanac.com

 Gore Bay climate data shows trends in past decade

MANITOULIN—This January was cold. Really cold. After this weekend’s brief reprieve of slightly warmer weather, temperatures have once again dropped well below freezing, although not quite as cold as the -40° Celsius wind chills throughout the month.

Then, there was the snowfall. The Gore Bay Environment Canada weather station peaked at 51 centimetres of snow on the ground on January 25 and 27, a number that has since dropped to 47 centimetres as of press time on Monday.

Although the temperatures have been rather frigid, they were not entirely a surprise to some forecasters.

“Right from the get-go in August, we said there was going to be teeth-chattering cold and ample snow,” said Peter Geiger, editor at the Farmer’s Almanac. “We predicted it would be a little bit warmer in February, but that it would be small break and it would primarily be still cold.”

Mr. Geiger has been involved with the Farmer’s Almanac for 40 years and took over the publication in 1995. His father joined the almanac for its 1935 edition before passing it down to his son, even submitting his forecast notes while serving in the Second World War.

This almanac started in 1818 when the editor decided to predict weather for farmers. They use sunspots and the position of the moon along with a safeguarded mathematical formula to issue predictions two years in advance. Only one person knows the formula.

“Over 202 editions, there have only been seven people doing the weather,” he said. “People tell us we’re in the 75-85 percent accurate range, but different people will tell you different things. Sometimes, the El Niño throws things off a bit.”

However, this is not the only widely popular almanac in circulation today. The Old Farmer’s Almanac was first printed in 1792 when founder Robert B. Thomas combined meteorology (short term weather forecasting), climatology (long-term weather trends in an area) and solar science to come up with long-term forecast models.

“The forecast for this winter in Canada that we did a year and a half ago produced a very unique result, perhaps one of the only forecasts for Canada that’s had one prediction for the entire country, and that was snowy,” said Old Farmer’s Almanac managing editor Jack Burnett.

“Southern Ontario (including Thunder Bay and Sudbury) and British Columbia went back and forth but in general, were averaging out to be about normal. Everything else though was colder than normal from Yukon to Nova Scotia.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac is the oldest continuously-published periodical in North America and Mr. Burnett said his publication has a similar average of 80 percent accuracy. This year, however, it appears that the newer of the two publications had a closer forecast for Manitoulin Island. He said he does not dwell on comparisons between the two publications.

“We don’t really compare ourselves to the folks from Maine. They’re nice folks, we know them, they have their ways of making predictions and we have ours. For some reason or another we seem to be way more popular. It doesn’t make them a bad product or bad people, we’re just different,” said Mr. Burnett.

Mr. Geiger had similar sentiments and compared the two almanacs to Time and Newsweek, adding that in the 1800s, anyone with a printing press usually published an almanac that ceased publication after their death.

“They said mild, we said cold. They have their method and we have ours. I’m just happy anybody is reading any almanac,” Mr. Geiger said.

Mr. Geiger said that the publication is more than just weather statements for the upcoming year.

“It’s a guide to good living. We show people ways to do things and try to be helpful. We really are trying to get people to not waste, pollute and contaminate the world through hints such as, don’t use chemicals for cleaning certain things, use baking soda and vinegar,” said Mr. Geiger.

Mr. Burnett said the Old Farmer’s Almanac has been running a special Canadian edition for 37 years that includes articles tailored to a Canadian audience.

“We try to do what our founder said which was to be useful with a pleasant degree of humour,” said Mr. Burnett.

“If we’re not right, we own up to it. We don’t change things if they’re not looking too good, it is what it is,” Mr. Burnett said. Mr. Geiger reflected some of the same constraints with his publication.

“We don’t have the luxury of changing our minds,” he said. The Farmer’s Almanac also publishes a separate edition with Canadian weather information.

Weather changes in the past decade

Based on climate data from the Gore Bay Environment Canada weather station, the amount of snow that has fallen on record-setting days has been holding steady to slightly declining, with the number of days with record snowfalls following a similar pattern.

This season’s record low temperatures are far colder than record temperatures that still stand from previous seasons. This winter, record lows have averaged around -31°C but the number of record-cold days is still fewer than last winter.

Record high temperatures, however, have dropped significantly in the 2018-2019 winter season and the number of days with record high temperatures has only been five, in contrast to 42 in the 2016-2017 season.