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Published August 31, 2009, 01:58 PM

Farmers' Almanac: It's gonna be cold

But that’s at odds with National Weather Service predictions
Americans, you might want to check on your sweaters and shovels — the Farmers’ Almanac is predicting a cold winter for many of you. The almanac’s forecast, however, is at odds with the National Weather Service, which is calling for warmer-than-normal temperatures across much of the country because of an El Nino system in the tropical Pacific Ocean

By: Herald Staff and Wire Report, Grand Forks Herald

LEWISTON, Maine — Americans, you might want to check on your sweaters and shovels — the Farmers’ Almanac is predicting a cold winter for many of you.

The venerable almanac’s 2010 edition, which goes on sale today, says numbing cold will predominate in the country’s midsection, from the Rocky Mountains in the West to the Appalachians in the East.

Managing Editor Sandi Duncan said it’s going to be an “ice cold sandwich.”

“We feel the middle part of the country’s really going to be cold — very, very cold, very, very frigid, with a lot of snow,” she said. “On the East and West coasts, it’s going to be a little milder. Not to say it’s going to be a mild short winter, but it’ll be milder compared to the middle of the country.”

The almanac, which has been published since 1818, issues annual forecasts using a formula based on sunspots, planetary positions and the effects of the moon.

This winter, the 200-page publication says it’ll be cool and snowy in the Northeast, bitterly cold and dry in the Great Lakes states, and cold and snowy across the North Central states.

It says the Northwest will be cool with average precipitation, the Southwest will be mild and dry, the South Central states will be cold and wet, and the Southeast will be mild and dry.

Mild valley winter?

But the almanac’s forecast is at odds with the National Weather Service, which is calling for warmer-than-normal temperatures across much of the country because of an El Nino system in the tropical Pacific Ocean, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md.

“The stronger El Nino becomes, the more confident and the more likely it will be the northern part of the country will have a milder-than-average winter,” Halpert said.

Mark Ewens, data manager with the weather service’s Grand Forks office, said it’s a little early to make broad predictions for the region’s winter. Still, there are some indications on how it might turn out.

The solar signal has been at a minimum, he said, and there is a correlation between sunspots and winters in the Northern Plains. Researchers with the Climate Prediction Center continue to track the El Nino system, which could make for some pleasant changes in weather if it continues to intensify.

“In general terms, the Northern Plains usually benefit by overall milder winters during an El Nino,” he said.

The system tends to give the Red River Valley a milder December and January, the core winter months, and usually means the region can expect average snowfall amounts. Grand Forks’ average snowfall is 45 inches each winter.

But it also often results in a colder-than-average February and March.

The last time the system affected the valley’s weather was during the 2006-07 winter, which had slightly warmer temperatures during a weak El Nino system. But Ewens pointed out that the El Nino pattern

doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a mild season, and he said there have been six winters on record with below-average temperatures in the region during the system.

For now, national climatologists are calling for a warmer winter than the past couple of snowy, cold years. But oscillation over the Pacific Ocean is entering a cool phase, which he said could weaken the El Nino system and change that forecast.

“Every year is different,” Ewens said. “The main thing is that the El Nino does not guarantee 100 percent that the winter’s going to be warm and dry.”

The almanac and the weather service agree on their predictions of warmer-than-usual conditions across much of the country next summer.

The Farmers’ Almanac, not to be confused with the New Hampshire-based Old Farmer’s Almanac, has a circulation of about 3.5 million.

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