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Farmers almanac winter ’20-’21 outlook: What it means and doesn’t mean for Rochester

Weather Blog

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) — The Farmers Almanac winter forecast is out.

It comes out every year in late August for the following winter. This year, Western New York is in the “MORE WET THAN WHITE” category. The Farmers Almanac is a fun and entertaining way to get people talking about weather and climate.

That is about as far as it goes for usefulness as a predictor of seasonal forecasts, which have and will continue to prove extremely difficult for specific locations.

The forecast accuracy of the Farmers Almanac is a common question that we get, but the forecast accuracy is difficult to measure when what you are working with is a forecast that proves to be so vague.

“More wet than white” means what, exactly?

Here are some questions I have:

  1. Does this mean we will be warmer than average and therefore get more precipitation as rain than snow?
  2. What about amount of rain versus snow?
  3. Does it mean we will see above average precipitation, or just above average rain events?
  4. Does this mean we see more lake-effect rain events?
  5. How do you verify this?
  6. How do you come to that contour line?

The site claims something like 80 percent accuracy. Others that have attempted to verify this have come something closer to 50 percent, but again with such a vague claim it is difficult to measure in a scientific way.

The Farmers Almanac is fun and entertaining. It does a great job at telling stories and giving you sunrise and sunset times, plus moon phases and a lot more. It just cannot be trusted when it comes to winter weather.

Keeping it with entertainment purposes, let’s take a look at the Climate Prediction Center’s forecast for December, January, and February (DJF). Although we get on average more than a foot of snow in March, DJF is meteorological winter.

They forecast the chance for a slightly above average winter with equal chances of above or below average for precipitation. Basically we have no idea.

Rochester averages about 100″ of snow per year and there are always long, cold stretches. We’ll go with that! Maybe by the end of October and November we should have a better idea of how global patterns like the El Nino Southern Oscillation is shaping up, or how the North Atlantic Oscillation is shaping up. Until then, let’s enjoy the rest of the short summer we have.

~Meteorologist James Gilbert

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