Farmers' Almanac Keeps Secret

Monday, August 28th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — Keep those mittens, snowblowers and heavy coats in storage: We might be in for a balmy winter.

The publishers of the Farmers' Almanac, using a formula known to only two people, predict another moderate winter as a follow-up to last year's warmest winter on record.

``The winter of 2000-01 should get off to a late start and turn out to be milder than average, even less severe than this last one,'' forecaster Caleb Weatherbee writes in the almanac that hits newsstands Tuesday.

Editor Peter Geiger admitted that last year's prediction — of a stormy November and December to be capped by more than a foot of snow at year's end in the Midwest and Northeast — was way off the mark.

There actually was a dearth of snow. Portland, Maine, for example, recorded its longest stretch of snowless days — 305 — before getting its first measurable snowfall on Jan. 16.

The effects of La Nina likely were to blame for the late arrival of snow, said Geiger, who noted that the almanac did better in predicting the biggest East Coast snowstorm of the season on Jan. 24.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also blamed La Nina for making the winter the nation's warmest in the 105 years that records have been kept.

The phenomenon of changing ocean temperatures known as La Nina and El Nino, along with the controversy over whether greenhouse gases are causing global warming, led to Weatherbee's declaration that he will stick by the almanac's traditional formula for predicting the weather.

``Many people have asked us if we plan to alter the 'secret formula' used for producing our annual weather forecasts. The answer is an unequivocal 'no,''' Weatherbee writes in this year's almanac.

After 184 years, some of the almanac's secrets have spilled: The formula is based on sunspots, the position of the planets and tidal action caused by the moon.

Although it isn't always right, the Farmers' Almanac, along with the Old Farmer's Almanac published in neighboring New Hampshire, which is 24 years older, is used to plan outdoor weddings, cookouts and vacations.

The National Weather Service contends weather can't be predicted with any certainty so far in advance. But the Farmers' Almanac says its long-term predictions are right about 80 percent of the time.

For the record, Weatherbee predicts a wet fall to be followed by two big December snowstorms. More snow is predicted, but overall the season will be mild.


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