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How bad will this winter really be?

A not-very-scientific investigation into why last year was so bad and what’s in store this time.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/File/Globe Staff/file

Maybe you’ve noticed it, too. The Old Farmer’s Almanac seems especially pleased with itself this year. A cheerful cover blurb calls the 2016 edition “USEFUL, WITH A PLEASANT DEGREE OF HUMOR.”

I, for one, am not laughing.

Not after sifting and shoveling through last winter’s demoralizing series of snowstorms.

Not after noticing that the 224-year-old annual takes a break from its litany of planting tips and moon-phase tables to brag about its (mostly correct) forecast of New England’s frigid February and March last winter.

And especially not after finding out that this unsympathetic little booklet, which begins its calendar year each November, is predicting more of the same for the winter ahead.


No one needs reminding about last year’s snow totals and misery. Julia Wenger of Framingham, a lifelong Massachusetts resident, told a Globe reporter in August that she was packing up and moving to North Carolina. “I remember sitting on our roof with a screwdriver and a hammer,” she said, “trying to get ice dams off and thinking, ‘I’m done.’ ”

In fact, the winter of 2014-15 “doesn’t just hold the record, it smashed the old records,” according to research conducted by MIT PhD student Ben Letham. Last winter, he wrote in a blog post, “we got 94 inches of snow in just one month, compared to the previous record (set in 1978) of 59 inches. To put that into perspective, the average annual snowfall for Boston is 41 inches.”

I admire Letham’s work. But it troubles me that he fails to investigate exactly why we were subjected to such an insulting season. Did we Southern New Englanders do something wrong during the previous fall? Was this cosmic pushback? A divine wrist slap? And, even more important, who can we blame?

To try and get to the bottom of these questions, I’ve been toiling for months on a study of my own — one that, if I may say so, may be even more brilliant than anything dreamed up by those scientists at MIT. After several months of research, I’ve identified the cause of last year’s historically brutal winter: It’s The Old Farmer’s Almanac itself.


Some readers are aware of the Almanac’s top-secret formula for weather predictions that factors in sunspots, tidal patterns, and planetary movements. It’s the kind of data that, in millenniums past, would have linked upcoming weather to what one observed in a pig spleen or a peculiar arrangement of persimmon seeds. The full formula is “locked in a black box,” the Almanac says.

But after analyzing my own secret data, I now realize that the Almanac’s closely guarded formula isn’t for forecasting at all. It’s a recipe. A prescription, if you will, that when activated by the editors and “meteorologists” at the Almanac’s offices, actually enhances stormy conditions. I don’t want to frighten people, but it’s quite possible that, from its quiet mountain headquarters in Dublin, New Hampshire, the staff at The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been making our weather worse. Much worse.

How can I possibly know this, you ask? I regret that there just isn’t space here to elaborate on the details of my data or methodology. Some of it is, to be frank, extremely technical, the kind of thing only leading weather psychologists will understand. I can tell you only this: Tom Brady’s QB rating plays a role.


In a press release, the Almanac claims it had been 96.3 percent accurate last year in its “predictions of a bleak and biting winter.” That doesn’t sound possible, does it? That is, unless some behind-the-scenes weather tampering has been going on. Consider this simple equation: More accuracy equals more responsibility. I hold the staff responsible for all of my shoveling and ice-chopping.

Apparently, though, the publication is not concerned about its behavior. A “super cold winter is on tap” for 2015-16, warns the Almanac’s website. “Bundle up! Freezing temperatures will be especially pronounced along most of the Atlantic seaboard . . . . And the Northeast . . . should brace for a slew of snow.” Is it any wonder that I’m deeply concerned about the months ahead?

To cap off my own work, I thought it prudent to consult the work of a mainstream meteorologist. Reporting on the 2015-2016 winter forecast from the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, David Epstein explained that, rather than a snowfest like last year, “Southern New England is just slightly tilted to a higher probability of a warmer-than-average winter.” A lot will supposedly depend on “storm tracks,” on whether “the core of the coldest air stays locked up in Canada,” and on this year’s “El Nino,” whatever that is.

I don’t know about you, but I won’t be soothed by high-minded talk. I can almost hear the Almanac editors laughing at all this technical jargon as they extract their secret formula from its dusty box, lace up L.L. Bean boots, and fire those pellet stoves.


I’ve got another secret that I forgot to mention. Remember that Framingham woman who gave up and said she was moving out of state? She may know something that The Old Farmer’s Almanac doesn’t. Something that MIT’s Ben Letham and meteorologist David Epstein haven’t included in their complex models. I’m looking forward to giving her a call.

I plan to, in fact. Just as soon as I settle in down in North Carolina.


Forecasters eye ‘battling signals’ in predicting upcoming winter

Winter still haunts Boston region’s psyche

Next winter won’t be as bad — if forecasters are right

Watch a winter’s worth of snow melt in 90 seconds

Tick population may thrive thanks to snowpack’s insulation

Peter Mandel lives in Providence and is an author of books for children, including “Jackhammer Sam” and “Zoo Ah-Choooo.” Send comments to magazine@globe.com.