LAKE TAHOE — Most winter recreationists are guilty of a snow dance or two when conditions look lean in December. With religious-like fervor, skiers and snowboarders pray to the snow gods, and shake their fists at the fickle deities during sparse seasons like the 2011-12 winter.
Snow prediction is a tricky and much sought-after skill, but giving credence to publications like the Farmers’ Almanac, which recently published its most recent forecast predicting a mild winter in the West, and even the Climate Prediction Center’s long-range climate outlook can be just as much a leap of faith as dancing widdershins in the snow, said Golden Gate Weather Services Certified Consulting Meteorologist Jan Null.
“I have looked at previous Farmers’ Almanacs and their accuracy is well less than 50 percent. None of their reports are peer-reviewed. They’re selling books to farmers,” Null said.
“About a third of our economy is weather sensitive. If someone really had the answer for long-range weather forecasts, these people would be so incredibly rich they’d be hiring Bill Gates and Warren Buffett as servants,” he said.
Null stressed that there is a sharp difference between climate analysis and publishing a long-range forecast. Temperature and precipitation averages can be useful tools, but they can’t tell how much snow will fall during the next winter season, he said.
There’s a lot of variability from season to season, and while one El Nino year can bring epic snowfall, another can be unseasonably dry. In fact, Californians don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to El Nino, a equatorial weather phenomenon that sometimes occurs in the Pacific Ocean, since it never comes to the state.
Farmers’ Almanac Editor Peter Geiger insists that the reports they publish are true forecasts that can accurately predict even daily weather. The Almanac’s predictions started back in the 1800s, when the publication’s first editor came up with a mathematical formula that took sun spots, planetary position and the effect of the moon on the earth to make long-range forecasts.
That formula and skill have been passed down from generation to generation of prognosticators. The pseudonym Caleb Weatherbee has also been passed down through the years to each of the organization’s seven soothsayers, an alias used to hide the true identity of the people making the predictions, Geiger said. Weatherbee was not available for comment.
If you’re one of a fairly large group of people that gives the Almanac at least some credence, then there’s not a lot to get excited about in the Sierra Nevada this season and some snow dances might be in order. Weatherbee predicted cold and lots of snow in the east while the West Coast will experience warmer and drier conditions than normal, with a mild winter and moderate snow fall.
In an AOL poll, 82 percent of the people who responded said they trusted the Farmers’ Almanac either “somewhat” or “a lot.”
For Heavenly Mountain Resort spokesman Russ Pecoraro, it’s exciting to read a positive report from the Almanac, but it won’t affect the ski resort’s plans for the season.
“The Farmers’ Almanac is pretty consistent. But we’re going to prepare for the season the same way. We’ve been doing this long enough to know that you can throw all those predictions out the window and sometimes the best way to determine weather is just to look out the window,” Pecoraro said.