Fact Check: How Accurate Are Farmers Almanac Weather Forecasts in Comparison to Weather Apps?

By Helen LinLast Updated May 4, 2021 2:00:27 PM ET
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The Morning Show new program features newscaster Walter Cronkite reading Old Farmers Almanac circa June 1, 1954. Credit: CBS/Getty Images

The Farmer's Almanac has been around for hundreds of years and claims to be at least 80 percent accurate. Back before the days of modern science — when meteorology did not exist or was basic at best — farmers relied on the Almanac to help them run their farms most productively and in accordance with predicted weather patterns.

But now that more technologically advanced tools exist to predict the weather, many feel the Farmer's Almanac is hokey and obsolete. So, the question remains: does the Farmer’s Almanac live up to its claim of being 80 percent accurate? And, furthermore, how does it compare to modern weather prediction apps?

The History of the Old Farmer’s Almanac and the Farmer's Almanac

Robert B. Thomas founded the Old Farmer's Almanac in 1792 after developing a "secret formula" for predicting the weather. In order to determine weather patterns, that secret formula relies on information about sunspots, or magnetic storms on the sun's surface, as well as the moon and planetary positions. Of course, the precise formula remains a secret, as it has for over 200 years. Of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, Thomas has been quoted as saying, "Our main endeavor is to be useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor."

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Photo Courtesy: Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

Perhaps confusingly, there’s also a publication called the Farmers' Almanac. Although nearly identical in terms of content and concept, this almanac was first published in 1818 and founded by astronomer, teacher and poet David Young. To provide long-term weather predictions to farmers in North America, Young combined his math and astronomy skills. "The almanacs use somewhat different methods of weather prognostication and have divided the climate regions of the country in different ways," Treehugger notes. "And they each have their followings."

Of course, these old weather-predicting formulas in the almanacs have been updated with the advancement of meteorological technology over the years. Moreover, they claim to provide a minimum of 80 percent accuracy of weather predictions 16 to 18 months into the future. In fact, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, their accuracy rate for the 2019-2020 predictions came out to 80.5 percent.

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What Do Modern Scientists Think About the Farmer's Almanac?

Today's meteorologists are scientists who study and use meteorological phenomena and mathematical models to predict the weather. Their models represent the atmosphere and use the metrics of physics. Typically, they consider any farmer's almanac a form of pseudoscience, especially considering the fact that meteorologists use advanced tools and hard science for their weather predictions —as opposed secret, unverified methods.

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Photo Courtesy: Brownie Harris/Getty Images

One of the main issues meteorologists have with the almanacs is that they claim to be able to accurately predict long-term weather. Yet, even with the best technology out there, meteorologists have a hard time providing a five-day forecast. Contemporary forecasting, which uses the latest in meteorological techniques and tech, has the ability to roughly predict weather for the next 10 days. But, in terms of accuracy, meteorologists attempting to predict even less than two weeks out have just a 60 percent accuracy rate.

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Long-range forecasting, or forecasting months or a year in advance, does not have the science to back it up. Using solar activity or weather in space as indicators for the weather on Earth is not what scientists consider to be "science" at all. Paul Knight, a Penn State meteorologist, has even gone so far as saying that "the ability to predict events that far in advance is zero."

The only way to predict the weather in the long term is by looking at climate history. Noting the normal weather patterns in a region is a good predictor of general weather patterns in that region overall. However, all that takes is a little bit of research, even for those who have little scientific skill.

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Moreover, analyses by researchers have found forecasts from farmers' almanacs fall closer to a 50 percent accuracy rate, which is essentially like flipping a coin to predict the weather. A news station in Chicago reported on this in January 2021, finding the Old Farmer's Almanac‘s accuracy in the Midwest at the time to be between 50 and 52 percent.

Furthermore, predictions from the Farmer's Almanac are often so vague that it would be hard to get certain things wrong, meaning those accuracy claims might be a bit inflated. For example, predicting a blizzard in Minneapolis around New Year's Day does not require any kind of science: sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't, but it's never out of the question.

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Should You Trust a Farmer's Almanac?

Back before modern meteorological technology existed, it made sense to try to predict the weather using any means possible. Farmers relied on weather predictions from farmers' almanacs to help them determine when to plant and when to harvest. That was the most advanced "science" of the time, after all. Plus, looking at historic patterns is never a bad idea.

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Photo Courtesy: Attila Kocsis-EyeEm/Getty Images

However, today's farmers generally don’t rely on the almanacs for long-term weather forecasting. In fact, it's more productive and efficient for them to rely on short-term weather predictions from meteorologists, which tend to be a lot more precise thanks to radar pictures, weather maps, and satellite images. And the same goes for the general population as well. That is, if you’re looking to plan a beach day, you’ll probably want to check your trusty weather app closer to the date.

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David Phillips, Environment Canada's senior climatologist, likens the farmer's almanac to astrology, another alleged "pseudoscience" that uses celestial events and alignments to make predictions. Still, to each their own. Putting faith into the long-term forecasts of a farmer's almanac is a personal choice that plenty of people seem to favor year after year — even if it’s just for the novelty of it. After all, the Old Farmer's Almanac remains one of the longest-running publications in the history of the United States — and that has to count for something.