WATERLOO, Iowa — If a cow has thick hair growing on the nape of its neck, if pigs are gathering sticks, spiders spinning larger-than-normal webs and corn husks are thicker than normal, then the coming winter is likely to be cold and cruel. Or trust the woolly caterpillar — if it's brown band is narrow, it will be snowy; wide and it will be mild; or really fuzzy, then winter will be really cold.
You might have better luck prognosticating this winter's weather using folklore and old wives' tales, given that predictions in the 2021 issues of "The Old Farmer's Almanac" and "The Farmers' Almanac" are polar opposites.
While it's still a few months out, "The Old Farmer's Almanac" is predicting a warmer-than-usual winter throughout the U.S., with "uncommonly chilly temperatures (mostly) limited to western states and Maine." For Iowa, the forecast is "not so cold, not too wet," while parts of the Midwest will be "more wet than white." Significant, above-average snowfall is predicted for Wisconsin and parts of Michigan and Alaska, as well as the High Plains and northeastern states.
"You will see snow and could have snow in Iowa before Thanksgiving, especially up in the northeast corner of the state. In general, the heartland — a four-state area that includes Iowa — will have substantially above normal temperatures. On Feb. 10, for example, 'above normal' could be into the 40s, and winter will have below normal snow and rainfall," said Janice Stillman, editor of The Old Farmer's Almanac.
By contrast, the extended forecast in "The Farmers' Almanac" predicts snow and cold for much of the country, "quite divided with some very intense cold snaps and snowfall," said editor Peter Geiger in a statement. He is calling its forecasts "The Winter of the Great Divide."
That almanac anticipates "cold and snowy conditions in the north, drought in the west, and everything in between," and "forewarns areas from the Great Lakes and Midwest, westward through the Northern and Central Plains, and Rockies are in for a cold winter, with normal to below-normal temperatures."
Each almanac claims its own formulas for weather prediction are accurate, but critics dismiss the seasonal forecasts as based on "pseudoscience" with roughly a 50-50 chance of accuracy. Both publications keep their forecasting formulas closely guarded secrets, but Stillman from "The Old Farmer's Almanac" points to the use of "three scientific principles — solar science, meteorology and climatology." The claims for last year's forecasts were 80.5% accurate.
Astrological and mathematical calculations are used in forecasts in "The Farmers' Almanac," which followers claim are 80 to 85% accurate.
"Weather" or not you trust the either almanac's forecasts, readers predictably find interesting and entertaining articles, more reasons they look forward to the annual publications.
"No trauma, no drama. Just fun, useful information that brings us back to nature, or slows the pace of real life, humor that gives us a giggle and lets us know what's just around the corner in trends, fashion, culture, investments," Stillman explained.
The new issue includes such features on backyard and barnyard predators, secret symbols in cemeteries, home remedies, old Valentines, small-space gardening, trends, recipes and readers' essays.
"Whether it's the printed publication or the website, 'The Old Farmer's Almanac' feels strong and sturdy. It has endured since 1792, as reliable as the sunrise and sunset," Stillman said. "It's old, but not old-fashioned."
Geiger's "The Farmers' Almanac" includes advice on growing your own food, connecting with nature, raising chickens, boosting the immune system and other articles as well as trivia and a planner's manual of best dates to quit smoking, start a diet, get married, fish, garden and more.
Both almanacs are available at retail and grocery stores and at online book sellers. For information on "The Old Farmer's Almanac," go to almanac.com. Find "The Farmers' Almanac" at www.farmersalmanac.com.