Essential Pittsburgh
8:05 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

The Pitfalls of Predicting Weather a Season in Advance

Credit CJ Schmit / Flickr

From the earliest years of our nation’s history there have been two books published each year to guide gardeners, cooks, housekeepers and farmer’s on a range of topics, including seasonal weather.

The Farmer’s Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac include long range predictions of weather in the United States. This year, both books predicted a colder than normal winter for our area. But what about the rest of the country? How accurate are the famed Almanacs, which use centuries-old secret formulas for predicting seasonal weather?

Paul Knight is a Penn State University Climatologist and co-host of the WPSU TV program Weather World out of State College. He says when it comes to long range weather prediction, he's always glad when someone gets it right.

This winter's Farmer's Almanac prediction made by the fictitious prognosticator "Caleb Weatherbee" is said to have been written 2 years in advance. To this, Knight also says, "I'll always give them kudos for whatever way they came up with to see this coming. But when I get it right, in terms of my longer range forecasts, my answer is that the blind squirrel finds a nut."

Knight says long range forecasting for trained meteorologists is still in its infancy. So when it comes to a scientific approach, the Almanac publishers should be willing to disclose their methodology, otherwise the predictions are viewed as mere chance.