AUSTIN (KXAN) – The fabled Farmers’ Almanac released their Winter 2022-23 forecast, calling for colder than normal weather in Texas with normal precipitation. But can these predictions be trusted?
How the Farmers’ Almanac Works
How the Farmers’ Almanac makes their long-term weather predictions is a closely-guarded secret. While their forecasters firmly deny using satellites or any weather-tracking equipment, they do use a secret formula created by an astronomer/mathematician in 1818.
Their forecasting data includes a handful of oddities and outliers from the field of meteorology. These include sunspot activity, the tidal action of the moon, position of the planets, and a “variety of other factors”. According to their website, “the only person who knows the exact formula is the Farmers’ Almanac weather prognosticator who goes by the pseudonym of Caleb Weatherbee. To protect this proprietary formula, the editors of the Farmers’ Almanac prefer to keep both Caleb’s true identity and the formula a closely guarded brand secret.”
How Accurate Are They?
While self-diagnoses claim that their extended forecasts “fare well”, research paints a different picture.
Professor Emeritus John Walsh in the Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences at University of Illinois conducted a study testing the accuracy of the almanac’s monthly temperatures and precipitation forecasts by comparing them to actual weather data over a five-year period. Results of this study found that 51.9% of the monthly precipitation forecasts and 50.7% of the monthly temperature forecasts were accurate.
This means Farmers’ Almanac predictions are similar to a coin flip – and do not show what mathematicians refer to as ‘statistical skill’.
So What Do We Expect?
Instead of looking to the stars and planets, let’s look at meteorological variables that play an important part in seasonal weather forecasting: La Niña and drought.
Extreme to exceptional drought conditions across Central Texas mean our soil is parched and lacks moisture. There is a positive feedback loop in a multi-year drought like this, where dry soil means there is no moisture to evaporate into our sky to boost local rain chances. In this case, dry weather in the past can lead to drier weather in the future. This may change before the coming winter, however, as October is our second-wettest month of the year and often brings flash flooding.
The rare three-year La Niña pattern that tilts the odds toward warmer/drier than normal weather in Texas is expected to continue for months. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center diagnoses the odds of La Niña at between 62-66% through early-winter, potentially leading to overall warmer/drier than normal weather locally.
Separately, a warming climate across the U.S. means we are operating from a higher baseline temperature in any given year, also loading the dice toward a warmer than normal winter.
Even in a warmer than normal winter, however, Texas will of course experience some cold days.