Just when I was hoping for an easy, down-on-the-farm winter, the 2010 Farmers’ Almanac showed up on my desk heralding frigid weather for my part of the world. In Farmers’ Almanac Managing Editor Sandi Duncan’s words, we should expect an “ice cold sandwich” when winter finally settles in. I wonder just when it will settle in down here in Kansas. Judging by the relatively cool weather of summer and fall, I think it might be sooner rather than later.
Last year, the 2009 Farmers’ Almanac predicted a long, cold winter for most regions. And just as promised, bitter cold and heavy snow pummeled much of the country. Even more surprising was that the cold really put the brakes on spring – especially in the North. I saw it firsthand in Bismarck, North Dakota, last June while looking over some new Bobcat equipment – the lilacs were just beginning to bloom. By then the fragrant flowers were long finished in Kansas. When spring finally did arrive, it brought heavy rains, with many areas experiencing twice the expected precipitation. I’ve appreciated the rains myself – they kept my pastures green through summer and fall.
The 2010 edition of the Farmers’ Almanac predicts “very cold and bitterly cold” temperatures for the Great Lakes, Plains and South Central states. The East and West coasts are expected to experience temperatures closer to normal. I, for one, am not looking forward to the possibility of a cold and wet winter on the farm – the thought of three months of mud makes me weary.
But wait, there may be hope. According to the National Weather Service, we are experiencing an El Niño event that’s expected to build sufficient strength to have a warming impact on much of the United States through this winter. Climatologists and meteorologists define El Niño in some very technical ways, but it is essentially a warming of Pacific Ocean surface waters, which has a significant effect on winds, weather and climate over much of the earth. For most of the United States, El Niño brings warmer than average winters. Now, this is a prediction I can live with.
So who should I believe as I make plans for wintering livestock and keeping my water systems flowing this winter? According to the Farmers’ Almanac, its readers say the long-range forecast is accurate from 80 to 85 percent of the time. According to an article quoting Steve Quiring, Texas A&M University geography professor, posted on the Texas A&M department of Atmospheric Sciences’ website, when it comes to long-term weather prediction using scientific models, accuracy runs closer to 5 percent.
Talking, thinking and arguing about the weather are favorite pastimes of folks all over the world – especially farmers. And there’s only one thing for sure about it. You will know what the weather is like when you experience it, and that’s really the only guarantee. But I like both weather sources – I use the Farmers’ Almanac to lend a hand with planting decisions and to get my mind around what kind of conditions might be waiting for me in the next season. I use the National Weather Service to get a handle on what the specific conditions in the week ahead might look like so I can plan chores accordingly. Both are fun to use and both give me plenty to talk about.
Whether it’s plowing your first snow, or planting your winter garden, we’d love to know what you’re up to this season. We’d especially like to know which weather-predicting tools you find particularly accurate or useful. If you keep a country journal and would like to share it through a blog at www.Grit.com, just let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org).
See you in January.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.