As the oldest continuously published periodical in North America, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been delighting, informing, infuriating and misguiding people—sometimes all at once—since 1792.
What’s in the Almanac? You can think of it as a tell-all that includes astrological movements, tide tables, weather predictions, crop tables, recipes, gardening tips and a whole lot more. Above all, it’s best known for its long-range forecasts.
Part of the reason for its success and enduring appeal is a purported secret formula that the periodical’s first editor, Robert B. Thomas, used to make long-term weather predictions. Thomas lived about 100 years before anything resembling the modern forecast was developed. He, like many during his time, believed the weather was determined by sun spots, eclipses and other astrological phenomenon. While his exact methods are not available to the public, the formula he used is supposedly still in use today. It’s also locked in a black box in the Almanac’s office in Dublin, New Hampshire.
The publication has long claimed their forecasting is 80 percent accurate, which is pretty astonishing when you consider that long-range forecasts (up to 90 days out) are around 60 percent accurate.
If this seems rather odd to you, it is. It might be nice to think a 200-year-old formula can beat even the most advanced technological measurements, but it’s just not true. Time and again, reputable publications such as Slate, The Atlantic and Time remind us that predictions made by The Old Farmer’s Almanac are less than perfect.
The appeal lives on
Nevertheless, thousands of Americans continue to swear that the most accurate weather conditions can be found in The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s pages.
However, there’s really no scientific backing for the predictions made in the Almanac. “They use climatology to make long-range forecasts that oversimplify conditions,” says Douglas Hilderbrand, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “The level of specificity and detail has zero scientific proof.”
Despite the lack of real evidence, scientists don’t completely dismiss the Almanac. “The value of The Old Farmer’s Almanac is that it can start conversations about real forecasts and real threats that exist,” says Hilderbrand.
In the next and final post, learn about two of the most famous weather phenomena: El Niño and La Niña.