ANNAPOLIS – Don’t put away the shovels and salt just yet: At least two more snowstorms are making their way toward Maryland this winter.
That’s what the Old Farmer’s Almanac says, and it’s been right on target this winter, forecasting last weekend’s “surprise” accumulation when professional meteorologists shrugged off what was supposed to be 1 or 2 inches.
Now it’s predicting a large snowfall by month’s end and a possible blizzard the second week of February.
Almanac readers also got a heads up in December when the state was hit with its first major winter storm.
“Over the years, we’ve averaged to be about 80 percent accurate, going back as far as we can possibly look at weather forecasts,” said Almanac spokeswoman Ginger Vaughan.
The New Hampshire-based almanac – at 211, the oldest consecutively published periodical in the Untied States – in September predicted a wetter, snowier, colder-than-average winter across the Mid-Atlantic.
That seems to be proving true. Maryland averages 20.6 inches each winter, however, the last two winters have been dry and warm. For example, just 7 inches fell on Hagerstown in all of last winter. Yet, much of Maryland was covered by more than 6 inches on Dec. 5. Exactly one month later, another 6 inches surprised meteorologists who called for much less.
Almanac editors use a combination of astrology, modern technology and a formula devised by founder Robert B. Thomas in 1792. Vaughan said only a handful of almanac forecasters know this recipe.
Other forecasters have their doubts, though they say it makes for good reading.
“I think anybody that plans vacations around the almanac has just as good a chance rolling dice or throwing darts, which we’re accused of doing,” said Doug Hill, chief meteorologist for WJLA-TV Channel 7 in Washington.
“Actually,” he deadpanned, “we used a Ouija Board.”
While the almanac’s 4.4 million readers may take predictions seriously, the Maryland State Highway Administration does not. Transportation officials prefer National Weather Service reports.
“(Last week’s snowfall) was a welcome surprise, and the (almanac) is a fun tool, but we don’t use it when planning our winter storm operations,” said SHA spokeswoman Kellie Boulware.
The National Weather Service is mum about its offbeat, informal competitor. Officials would only discuss oracular techniques used by their own meteorologists, who missed the mark last weekend.
“We just stick with the science the forecasters use here and can’t make comments about the Farmer’s Almanac,” said John Leslie, a spokesman for the agency.
How does the weather service predict weather? Primarily through statistics and historical trends like El Nino and La Nina. Mike Halpert, head of forecast operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said 2003 conjectures in the South and Midwest have been accurate. It’s only the Northeast that surprised experts.
But it didn’t surprise a Maryland high school student. Emily Welch, 14, a freshman at South River High School in Crofton, compared weather reports from The (Baltimore) Sun, the National Weather Service and the Old Farmer’s Almanac for her school’s science fair later this month.
In her two-month research project, the Almanac most closely predicted the average daily high and low temperatures in the Baltimore region. “I thought it’d be interesting to see how accurate their results are,” Welch said. “My dad watches the news and would tell me the forecast, and I’d say, `No, you can never believe them.’ It always seems that when they’d say it’ll snow, it never would.”