The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a colder, snowier winter than normal in the Atlantic Corridor region, which includes parts of Maryland. Last year, the almanac predicted similar temperature and snow levels, and the year before had predicted higher temperatures and precipitation.
Did previous winter seasons in Maryland match those predictions? The almanac claims to have a traditional accuracy of 80%, but studies and climatologists question the accuracy of the centuries-old guide.
According to their website, The Old Farmer’s Almanac is the oldest in the country. It was established when George Washington was president in 1792. The publishers release an almanac every September with winter predictions, recipes, articles, astronomical data, and planting information.
The almanac forecasts winter weather far in advance using a “secret weather formula” invented by its founder, Robert B. Thomas, which involves analyzing sunspots—large, strong magnetic fields that occur on the sun’s surface. Their website claims this secret formula is locked in a black box in their Dublin, New Hampshire offices.
“Over the years, we’ve got state-of-the-art technology and radar,” said Sarah Perreault, a senior editor at the Old Farmer’s Almanac. “So we can marry the two together, but it’s still mostly based on three scientific disciplines: solar science, meteorology, and climatology.”
Winter predictions and long-range weather forecasting are not the sole purposes of the guide, but it is a big reason people turn to it every year when it’s released.
“I would say that it’s a core part of the Old Farmer’s Almanac every year,” Perreault said. “So people use it for planning events, people use it for gardening. We’re just trying to help anybody by providing information ahead of time.”
In the 2021-2022 winter season, the almanac predicted a cold, snowy season for the Atlantic Corridor (Region 2), which includes part of Maryland. The guide specifically noted that “the snowiest periods will occur in mid-and late December, from early to mid-January, and in mid-March.”
The Baltimore area had a total snowfall of 14.4 inches during the season, primarily from a huge dump in January 2022.
In the 2020-2021 winter season, the almanac predicted a season with “sheets of sleet” for Maryland. The prediction specifically noted below-normal snowfall and near-normal precipitation levels.
The season ended with below-average snowfall in Baltimore, clocking in around 10.9 inches. The 30-year average snowfall for the Baltimore area is 20.1 inches.
Alfredo Ruiz-Barradas, the Maryland state climatologist, said that although the Old Farmer’s Almanac formula is unknown, they are likely using a statistical model to predict weather patterns.
The almanac uses language like “above normal” and “below normal” to describe deviations from the 30-year average, which is normal for climatology, according to Ruiz-Barradas. Right now, the time frame being compared is the average from 1991 to 2020.
The weather predictions also note specific temperatures and weather patterns weekly. Ruiz-Barradas said that although climate technology allows us to look at general weather trends far ahead, it is impossible to know what will happen in a specific week three months from now.
“Caution has to be exercised when looking at these almanacs’ predictions,” he said. “Because, as I said, we do not know what is behind these models, as opposed to what we know is behind, nowadays, mathematical models [and] the climate models that exist now.”
Ruiz-Barradas recommends looking at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s winter outlook. Their map predicts higher-than-normal temperatures in Maryland and an equal chance for above, near, or below-average precipitation. These predictions contradict the Old Farmer’s Almanac predictions for the upcoming cold, snowy winter season.