Prepare for a wild ride – America could be in for a 'polar coaster' this winter.
The 2020 Farmers’ Almanac has dropped, and if its long-range forecasts are to be believed, two-thirds of the country could be in for a frigid season. From the northern plains to the Great Lakes, temperatures appear set to plummet, and the Northeast will also see colder-than-normal weather, with more precipitation than usual on the cards for both regions. The Northeast in particular looks susceptible to a hefty amount of snow, rain, sleet, and ice, especially at the beginning of January, when storms could dump all over the eastern half of the country.
The western third should get off easier, with temperatures more in line with the statistical averages and near-normal precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest. Nationwide, though, the coldest stretch should be between the last week in January and the beginning of February, thanks to a snowstorm that’s predicted to start in the Great Plains and pull that chilly Arctic air across the rest of the country. But come February 2, will the groundhog see its shadow? According to these prognostications, yes, particularly in the Midwest, Great Lakes, Northeast, and New England, where winter looks like it’ll hang on until April.
Of course, according to modern-day meteorologists, such forecasts should be taken with a grain of salt. Though the Farmers’ Almanac’s website doesn’t make its methodology readily available, its competitor, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, relies on a procedure based on its 18th-century founder’s belief in the influence of sunspots on the weather, making its predictions some 18 months in advance by studying the atmosphere, weather patterns, sunspots and other solar activity. The Old Farmer’s Almanac claims an 80% success rate, which many meteorologists view with skepticism – some analyses have put the number closer to 50%, which could be down to a matter of chance.
“There is no way of actually predicting the weather,” National Weather Service meteorologist Andrew Molton told the Bristol Herald Courier last year. “Anything that is more than two weeks out can change rapidly…. We have no way of telling, and our best tools when it comes to forecasting are computer models — and the weather forecast is always changing. It’s our job to fine-tune what we think is going to happen — sometimes it’s right and sometimes it’s not.”
That said, these almanacs have been in the game for a long time, and it’s possible that modern-day weather folks could learn something from their forebearers. "Before meteorologists were putting out their winter predictions, the (Old) Farmer's Almanac has been doing this," CNN Weather senior meteorologist and executive producer Dave Hennen said in 2016. "I think people remember that. Nowadays, even meteorologists are putting out outlooks for 'is it going to be a busy hurricane season?' 'Is it going to be a bad winter?' I think we're just kind of new to the game, whereas the (Old) Farmer's Almanac has been doing it forever."