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A look at the Old Farmer's Almanac vs meteorology

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – If the folks at the Canadian edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac are right (and they claim to be, 80 per cent of the time, historically) we are in for a wetter, colder and maybe whiter start to the year.

“We’re looking at above-normal precipitation, above-normal snowfall, but not by much. The heaviest snowfall is in early and late January,” says Almanac editor Jack Burnett.

With the mountains already blanketed, Burnett suggests skiers and boarders have reason to celebrate, much like last year.

“It’s funny. Last year, we said ‘get ready’ and some of the folks up in the mountains said ‘Whaddya mean get ready?’ It turned out we happened to be correct,” he tells us.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been around since 1792 and uses three things to make weather predictions: long-term weather patterns in an area, local meteorology, and the study of sun spots.

“It’s not a formula like A+B+C=W; it’s more like a recipe,” says Burnett. “We literally, physically still have that in a strongbox. It’s more than 200 years old.”

The Almanac’s “weather recipe” has long since been converted into computer algorithms and their predictions come out of a complicated process involving many factors, including historical trends.

“We go back and look at all the weather observations that Environment Canada and its predecessors have ever had for Vancouver and the BC area and we have them loaded into our computers. We then look for patterns in the past that resemble a pattern in the present and look at what happened next. Knowing the way we forecast, the computers then figure out if it would make sense for what happened a long time ago to happen in the present,” explains Burnett.

So, who is more accurate: the folks at the Farmer’s Almanac or meteorologists? Is there ever any smack talk between them?

“Sometimes there is,” laughs Burnett. “But we have a good relationship with meteorologists. We have meteorologists with us, too; it’s not an either-or situation. Environment Canada is one of the most-respected weather services that exists. Often people will say ‘you got it right and they got it wrong’ but, you now, it’s not for lack of trying.”

He points out the Almanac and weather services use about 98 per cent of the same material. “We just look at it in a different way.”

“It’s like making soup,” he describes. “Environment Canada takes all of its factors and puts them into the pot and stirs them up in their own way and it comes out with a forecast. We take the same material, add in a little more emphasis on trends, stir it up and we come with our forecast soup.”

“Some people like one, some people the other. But most people like both,” he chuckles.