Both the Farmers' Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac — two separate publications — are silly on weather.
Both issue essentially worthless detailed forecasts for a year out based on either nothing at all or junk science. Some people take them seriously, but most don’t because they know better. Or, if they don’t, they SHOULD know better. There actually have been a number of statistical studies done on their forecasts proving their worthlessness, which was no surprise to meteorologists. Studying silly forecasts is probably grant money that could have been better spent elsewhere.
What is of greater concern to most professional meteorologists is the choice of a few large commercial forecasting firms which put out ultra-long range daily forecasts which have little or no actual basis in science beyond 10 days. We know this because of something related to chaos theory. Complex systems grow increasingly chaotic with the passage of time. The atmosphere is not Lego blocks; things don’t snap neatly into place in pace. The Earth is a spinning globe with an atmosphere that behaves as a fluid, heated unevenly by a thermonuclear furnace 93 million miles away.
The concern is these few forecasting firms, a couple of which are very large and filled with well-educated meteorologists, have managers who KNOW better than to issue 45-day or 30-day daily forecasts. But these executives also know a lot of customers are willing to believe such forecasts are viable, coming as they do from well-known and seemingly respectable firms. So, there is a product with little or no value which is knowingly dished out to increase business and profits. In my mind that raises serious ethical problems.
Our ability to forecast further out in time has gradually increased very substantially over recent decades. More sophisticated tools, including a plethora of detailed atmospheric models and very high-definition small-scale (mesoscale) models have contributed a large part to more accurate forecasts. When I was in college, the idea of a seven-day forecast was far in the future, dependent on computer crunch power which wasn’t even on the drawing board, in addition to better understanding of why the atmosphere does what it does. We now have lower-resolution models on a global scale than can often show us trends for temperatures out to and sometimes beyond 14 days. But when it comes to precipitation, amounts, placement and tracks of storm systems, we are almost certainly approaching a “soft wall” on our ability to predict beyond seven to nine days.
The atmosphere simply becomes too chaotic to model where thunderstorms, hurricanes, and lake-effect snow will be occurring or IF they’ll be occurring so far out in time. The recognition of those limitations has come through years of research. Even optimistic theoretical physicists feel detailed, localized forecasts are not going to progress beyond two weeks, if we ever get to two weeks. Right now, two weeks for precipitation events seems quite unlikely in the foreseeable future. We are currently stuck in a seven- to occasionally nine-day range, and seven to nine days is really pushing the envelope for precipitation. Fact is, verification in that time range is unimpressive. Temperature forecasts will continue to slowly improve more readily than precipitation forecasts because temperatures are tied to broad atmospheric patterns around the globe. These forecasts will be keyed to large regional coverage, rather than point, localized forecasts
If you’re waiting for someone to tell you whether it’s going to snow in the afternoon two weeks from Thursday in Orchard Park you’re going to be sorely disappointed, and so will your grandchildren. As for 30 to 45 days out, some studies have shown these 30 and 45 day forecasts actually do WORSE than flipping a coin. That is, they are worse than following climatology, which is the average of what has occurred at a given time over a 30-year period, and not based on current atmospheric conditions.
Then, there is the matter of maniacal social media hype from amateurs who think they know how to interpret models which show a big storm 16 days in the future. Some of these keyboard oafs actually have tens of thousands of followers, more than a few of whom are easily duped by the baseless hype. That earns a big, fat OY. However, gibberish from amateurs is not really comparable to unscientific forecasts being churned out by companies who know better.
And there’s the ethical rub.
If weather forecasts further out in time are important to you, be aware there’s a meteorological minefield out there.
Meteorologist Don Paul retired from Channel 4 earlier this year after more than 30 years on Buffalo TV. His articles on weather, climate and related sciences appear at buffalonews.com.