Just Askin' | Predicting seasonal weather

Just Askin' | Predicting seasonal weather

Q: What's the forecast for this winter?

A: We don't really know at this point.

The Old Farmer's Almanac (founded 1792) is predicting a warm and wet winter, and the Farmer's Almanac (founded 1818) is predicting a "biting cold, snowy" winter.

There will be "some snow in the early part" of December, with forecasts showing it will be "messy at Christmas," said Peter Geiger, editor of the Farmer's Almanac.

But meteorologists say both almanacs are basically pseudo-science.

"Completely useless," said Jeff Frame, a University of Illinois weather professor. "This year, at least one of them is going to be dead wrong."

The almanacs predict the weather down to the day months in advance, but "we fundamentally cannot predict day-to-day weather beyond seven to 10 days in advance," Frame said.

While some private companies are trying to make long-term forecasts, Frame said it's "still an area of very active current research in weather science."

And the National Weather Service's Climate Predication Center makes broad three-month forecasts, but nothing down to the specific day as the almanacs do.

It's outlook for December through February indicates a 39 percent chance of above-normal temperatures in Champaign, 33 percent chance of normal temps and a 28 percent chance of below-normal temps.

And for precipitation, there's an equal chance of above-normal, below-normal and average precipitation this winter.

The almanacs don't say how they reach their forecasts, but Geiger said it's based on a mathematical formula developed in the 1800s that takes into account sunspots, tides and the position of the planets.

"They're very tight-lipped about what they actually do use," Frame said. "Folks like me and other meteorologists kind of want this to go away."

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