Predicting the Weather: Science or Faith?

Winter weather predictions: science or faith?

Tuesday, 18th August 2015  /  By Vince Shuley
Weather El Nino Map

It’s that time of year again. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has released its 2016 edition, with all the associated predictions of snowfall for the upcoming winter. Online ski media has of course begun to jump on the bandwagon with click bait article titles touting – around six months in advance – how great a winter we can expect. And they’re saying this could be a pretty darn good year for snow.

farmers almanac

Bringing you weather predictions since 1792, the Old Farmer’s Almanac

If you’re not familiar with the Old Farmer’s Almanac, it’s believed to be America’s longest running publication providing farmers with helpful planting charts for their crops since 1792 through a secret formula of solar science, climatology and meteorology, securely housed in a black box in Dublin, New Hampshire. The periodical has amassed a significant following in North America not so much from its weather prediction, but from its witty and humorous writing style, as well as inclusions of light-hearted content such as recipes and garden guides.
While Old Farmers and various other almanacs have been historically proven to be accurate less than half of the time by skeptical meteorologists, thousands of people still subscribe to the annual publication. In a world where governments spend millions of dollars on weather models involving complex algorithms and physics equations, some may find it laughable that people still listen to the clandestine and unproven theories of almanacs, or even the prognostications of a Pennsylvanian groundhog.

weather El Nino

Pennsylvania’s most revered weather prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil | Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Punxsutawney Phil, that little furry weather soothsayer, is the perfect example of winter weather predictions based on faith. Just like the Groundhog Day festival goers wishing for an early spring, skiers and snowboarders in the region are sharing the Old Farmer’s Almanac prediction that “the snowiest periods in the Pacific Northwest will be in mid-December, early to mid-January and mid- to late February” in the hopes that it will break the cycle of the last two less-than-average snow seasons.
Of course scientists and meteorologists have their own theories, mostly pointing to the El Niño event that is predicted to be the strongest since 1997-98 when huge snow storms hit Whistler and the Pacific Northwest, even bringing snow to Seattle in January. Now before we start sabering the champagne in celebration, mind that the El Niño does often mean warmer than average temperatures. And that could spell rain for the Coast Mountains.
But ski town dwellers don’t like to be negative, instead they prefer superstition such as sacrificing old skis and snowboards to the mythological Norse snow god, Ullr. Do your snow dance around a bonfire of burning fiberglass and we’re sure to have a great season, right?

TLH heliski

Chad Hendren enjoys a the effects of a cooler winter at TLH Heli Skiing, February 2014 | Photo by Vince Shuley

Whether you choose to believe the predictions of an outdated book publisher, the theories of  lab coat-wearing meteorologists or a bearded deity, Nature will deal her blows as she pleases. The best way to have a great snow season is with acceptance; prepare for the worst, hope for the best. That’s how ski resorts approach it, and for them it could make or break their business.
For the rest if us, let’s celebrate when the snow actually arrives and we’re all out there enjoying it again.

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