Silly (Prediction) Season is Upon Us Again

It’s that time of year when the news media gets a free fluff piece to eat 30-60 seconds of air time or throw up a random post on their site to generate clicks/shares, and make it seem like they actually did some work.

That’s right – the Farmer’s Almanac (and Old Farmer’s Almanac) have come out with their Winter predictions. Actually, maybe only one of them has. I’m not really sure and I don’t really care. I just happened upon this article and started reading. You don’t have to click that link though, as I’m about to break down this gem below.

Before we begin, I should note this article is written by Dave Crawley, a reporter for KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA who appears to focus on community events. So, this seems like a nice, easy piece for him to write. His bio indicates he has won the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in broadcast news writing. I’m just going to leave that there.

Let’s begin…

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — If you liked last winter, you’ll love this one – at least according to the Farmer’s Almanac, dating back to 1818. The pages are full of warnings of snow storms and bitter cold.

As has been mentioned in this space before (probably long before since it’s been a while), predicting seasonal weather months in advance is largely a futile effort. Also, the Farmer’s Almanac (and the Old one , too) are largely unreliable even if they turn out to be just as accurate as anyone else. This is because all predictions like this are generally unreliable. (Seriously, look at last year’s NOAA Winter Outlook and the subheading to the article: “Repeat of last year’s extremely cold, snowy winter east of Rockies unlikely.” Whoops.)

Also, note that while February was very cold in Pittsburgh last year, December and January combined were almost exactly normal. In addition, snowfall was less than 6 inches above normal. Outside of the February cold (and it was awful – almost 13 degrees below normal for the month), the Winter was rather normal. The previous Winter (2013-14) saw almost 20 more inches of snow.

Then there’s the “Old” Farmers’ Almanac, which goes back to 1792. Alas, they both have the same outlook.

Alas, they’re both pretty meaningless.

How many times have you heard forecasters say, “Most of the snow will stay to the south of us?”

Probably not as often as they’ve heard forecasters say, “Most of the snow will stay to the north of us.” I mean, it is colder to the north of Pittsburgh, climatologically-speaking. So, you would expect those areas to get more snow. My guess is that it’s fairly common for snow to fall in places like Cleveland, Erie, and Buffalo while a wintry mix, or just plain rain, falls in Pittsburgh. (That’s also been my experience living here the past few years.)

Well, we went to “the south of us.”

In fact, it was in Washington, Pa. where we asked local residents what they think of that long-range, snowy forecast.

Wait. You literally got in your car and spent the gas/money to drive south and ask some people about a Farmer’s Almanac prediction? Where exactly did you go to ask these people? (Note: the article doesn’t say because of course it doesn’t.)

“They were right about last winter,” one man said. “I think they predicted the same thing.”

Does anyone know what this means? Who was right – Farmer’s Almanac? So who predicted the same thing? Or is that meant to imply they are predicting the same thing for this Winter? I’m so confused.

Also, it wouldn’t take much effort to tell whether or not a prediction was right. Just find out what it was, then find out what actually happened. Would it have taken that much effort? No, it wouldn’t, because I’ve already done it. The snowfall was slightly above normal while temperatures were below normal, so I guess their prediction of above average snowfall with cold was right for the 2014-15 Winter. Of course, the convenience of simply predicting above or below normal without putting a number on it means you’ve got a 50/50 shot.

“Last winter was really bad,” a woman added. “So I’m hoping it will be a little bit better this year.”

Again, it really wasn’t that bad outside of the temperatures in February. Snowfall was pretty close to normal. It could’ve been worse. It has been worse. 1977-78 was 1.5 degrees colder for the December through February period with 15 more inches of snow. I’m sure there were others, but that’s one that always sticks out in my head.

Meteorologists don’t put much more stock in Farmers’ Almanacs, saying that a system called El Nino may make for a warmer winter.

“A system called El Nino”? Really? This guy won an award named after Edward R. Murrow? How can you have not at least heard of El Nino? And how do you know Farmer’s Almanac isn’t considering the most influential ocean cycle in their prediction? (Here’s a guess: they are probably considering it.)

Also, “a warmer winter”? I’m not sure about that. Pittsburgh sits right on the dividing line between above normal temperatures to the northwest and increased snowfall to the east during typical El Nino Winters. The last Winter to be heavily influenced by El Nino was 2009-10 when Pittsburgh received their 3rd-highest snowfall on record: 77.4 inches. I’m not saying that’s going to happen this coming Winter (remember, predicting this stuff is silly), but it’s worth noting what has happened in the past.

Nevertheless, a supporter says, “I kind of believe what the Farmer’s Almanac says. I believe in farmers. Those old-timers know what they’re talking about.”

Holy shit. This is all kinds of amazing.

I’m going to set the religious undertones of that statement aside and move on to the notion that farmers are writing this almanac. By all accounts, farmers are not writing the almanac, nor are they heavily influencing the predictions contained within it. Rather, it seems the almanac is written for farmers so they may plan ahead for the end of the current growing season and beginning of the next one. The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists its editors, none of which claim to be farmers. Gardeners? Yes, but that seems like a hobby more than a job since, you know, their job is to edit The Old Farmer’s Almanac. These editors primarily hold degrees in English as well as the humanities and social sciences.

This isn’t to say that someone with a non-science degree cannot conduct science. Of course they can, just as someone with a science degree can create art. And, in reality, the Old Farmer’s Almanac is conducting science. They record information about the weather, tides, stars, and Sun in an effort to predict future weather. It’s just that science has advanced well beyond these methods.

When it comes to “old-timers,” don’t for one second believe that meteorology doesn’t have its fair share. The field is full of people who will be happy to remind of how things were done “back in their day” before all this fancy technology came along. They have their tried-and-true methods that they’ll still apply. Are they any more accurate? Probably not, but they feel more comfortable sticking to their process.

Some don’t need an almanac to know which way the wind blows.

Personally, I’d recommend an anemometer.

“If you start hitting cold spots, look out, it’s coming,” one man says.

Again, what the hell does this mean?

Others are hoping the forecast is right

“Winter’s my favorite season, so bring it on,” another adds.

Do these people have names? How hard is it to just ask someone their name and write it down so you don’t have to keep using “one man/woman said” and “another says”?

“I’m prepared for it,” says another. “I’m a rancher myself, so I’m ready.”

He found the FarmersOnly.com bar, right? That’s really the best explanation for where he’s finding these people.

Ready or not, here it comes. Unless it doesn’t.

This is actually the most appropriate line in the article.

In totality, this article is a classic example of lazy journalism pandering to the lowest common denominator. Don’t bother fact-checking or researching anything to try to enlighten your audience. Don’t bother finding alternative viewpoints to help the reader think critically about the topic. Just grab some quotes from some people at a bar (allegedly) and throw together an article to publish.

Of course, maybe a Farmer’s Almanac prediction doesn’t deserve much better anyway.

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Big Bowl Preview IX

Bahamas Bowl

Things I realized when I once again ventured into the bowl preview this year:

1. The last post on this blog was last year’s bowl preview. Apparently I’ve lost touch with my inner weather enthusiast. That, or having a child and a new job tends to squeeze the old free time.

2. You know you’ve been doing this entirely too long when you have to double check the roman numerals you’re using in the title to ensure it represents the number you think it should represent.

3. About the only time I visit espn.com is when I’m making this bowl preview. They actually have a very concise bowl schedule that’s easy to reference when creating the bolded info part of each game. I recommend printing it out as an easy guide this bowl season.

4. There are a number of new bowl sponsors/games this year, so this preview should basically write itself.

As always, any predictions are for entertainment purposes only, but don’t let me stop you from using them to gamble your life away. After all, gambling on amateur* athletics is about as American as it gets. Well, perhaps it’s just below fully-grown adults obsessing over the college choice of an 18 year-old, but it’s close.

*Again, Ha!

(All times EST.)

Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl
(You know the teams)
7:00 PM, December 19, Salem, VA
ESPNU

For the 9th time in the last 10 years Wisconsin-Whitewater (14-0) will face off against Mount Union (14-0) in the Division III National Championship game. At this point, I’m not sure why they even have Division III football. It’s the same two teams almost every year. This is how Olympic events get squashed – a lack of parity/competition.

Mount Union’s road to here has been relatively smooth. Rival John Carroll is the only team to hold Mount Union under 58 points in a game this year. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Carroll lost both games by a single score, which is a heck of an accomplishment when you consider the scores of every other Mount Union game this year. The other three games Mount has played in the playoffs? 63-3, 67-0, 70-21. So, yeah, lack of competition applies.

All that said, Whitewater has won the last four Stagg Bowl games they’ve appeared in, defeating Mount every time. Whitewater won their last two playoff games by a combined 10 points, which would seem to favor Mount if you assume the bracket is evenly stacked (I’m not watching DIII film to scout these teams), but Whitewater has certainly had their number in this game as of late.

One sneaky factor: the Whitewater coach is leaving for an FBS school (Buffalo) after this game. Could be a difference maker. Speaking of FBS schools…
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Big Bowl Preview VIII

Eight? Seriously, this is the eighth time I’ve done this? Why haven’t you stopped me? Why are you still reading this?

BECAUSE MEANINGLESS EXHIBITION GAMES BETWEEN MEDIOCRE, AMATEUR* TEAMS MAKES FOR THRILLING TELEVISION, THAT’S WHY!!!

*Ha

As always, this preview is meant for entertainment purposes only, but you should assume any and all predictions are 100% accurate and gamble your child’s college fund/inheritance based solely on the predictions made here.

(All rankings are BCS top-25. All times are EST.)

Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl XLI
Mount Union (14-0) vs. Wisconsin-Whitewater (14-0)
7:00 PM, December 20, Salem, VA
ESPNU

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Super Typhoon Haiyan About to Make Landfall in Philippines

Haiyan Satellite

Super typhoon Haiyan is set to make landfall in the Philippines this evening (in the US – Friday morning in the Philippines).  Unlike in the US, the Philipinnes do not send hurricane hunter aircraft into tropical cyclones for observations.  Instead, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center relies on satellite estimates for wind speed and pressure.  As of 3pm EST, the JTWC estimated Haiyan’s maximum sustained winds at 195 mph with gusts up to 235 mph.  To put that in perspective, Haiyan’s max winds could decrease by 40 mph (to 155 mph) and it would still be considered a category five hurricane on the Saffir Simpson scale.  In other words, this is one of the most powerful tropical cyclones you will ever see.

Keep in mind the Philippines were struck by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake less than one month ago.  The quake killed hundreds of people and left hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes.  Unfortunately, the forecast track for Haiyan takes the super typhoon very near the epicenter of the quake.

If you’re the praying type, I think the Philippines could use them right about now.

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Does AccuWeather Respect the Process?

Or is this what people want?… (emphasis mine)

Though summerlike temperatures kicked off fall in some parts of the United States, winter — with its cold and snow — is quickly following. The season will get off to a slow start in the Northeast with only occasional shots of cold early on. The northern Plains and the Rockies, however, will be bitterly cold at times and buried in snow.

(From AccuWeather’s Winter Forecast article here.)

This is ridiculous when you consider just how difficult it can be to predict the weather months in advance.  Using definitive language like “this will happen…” seems like you’re setting yourself up for ridicule down the line.  Then again, maybe this is what people want.  I suppose a forecast that waffles or qualifies every statement lends itself to ridicule as well.

That said, I don’t know why it’s so hard to simply lay out one’s thoughts/arguments in defense of a forecast while acknowledging it’s a difficult task and not without risk of failure.  Confidence with humility – that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Anyway, here’s the graphic from AccuWeather for their Winter Forecast:

650x366_10071419_winter-2013-14-adc-hd

As you might suspect, the rest of the text is presented in a similar fashion to the opening paragraph quote above.  Of note here is the widespread cold and snow in the West, Northern Plains, and Great Lakes.  The graphic colors indicate a mild east coast, but the text notes that Winter may simply get a late start in this area:

Winter weather lovers will have to be patient this year, as the start of the season in the East certainly won’t pack a punch in terms of cold or snowfall. Winter will begin mildly, with a long duration of above-normal temperatures. One snow system and some chilly air could come at times during November, however.

Temperatures will fall in the latter part of the season, likely the beginning of January, allowing snow to fall along the I-95 corridor.

Philadelphia, which received only 8 inches of snow last year, will likely get higher amounts, but other areas from New York City to Boston should not expect to beat last year’s totals. Overall, however, winter sports enthusiasts have a shot at an average season.

Notice how they mention that “some chilly air could come at times during November.”  So, you know, if it gets chilly in November, they weren’t wrong even if their graphic says “Mild Start.”  They still seem to be forecasting an average Winter overall for the east, which makes that graphic a little misleading.  Otherwise, the rest of their text seems to align with the graphic.  How does this matchup with other forecasts?  We’ll take a look in the coming days/weeks.  (It is only October – although I saw snow here in Southwest PA this morning.)

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Warm Start to Autumn About to Come to Abrupt End

Temperature anomaly across the US from mid-September to mid-October.

Temperature anomaly across the US from mid-September to mid-October. (Click to enlarge this and all other images.)

Cooler than normal temperatures have lingered in the West while much of the middle and eastern part of the nation enjoyed a rather warm and pleasant beginning to Autumn.  As is often the case in transitional seasons, all good things must come to an end.  In this instance, not one, but two shots of cold air are expected to impact much of the country, with the second shot serving as the Winter wake-up call, so to speak.
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Santa Rosa, NM Experiences White Independence Day

07-08 Santa Rosa Hail

I’m a little late to the party on this, but my holiday weekend was full of work in and around the new house.  As you can see above, the streets of Santa Rosa, NM required plowing on Wednesday.  Not from snow (it is July in New Mexico after all), but from hail.  These storms aren’t unheard of in this part of the country.  In fact, you may recall an even more intense hailstorm occurred near Amarillo, TX last year.  Given the sparse population in this part of the country, many of these events go unnoticed.  It just so happens two such storms have passed over or near cities in the last 15 months.

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