News and Tribune

CNHI Special Projects

April 17, 2013

Everybody talks about the weather, but it's not easy to predict

I remember my first-grade teacher, Ms. Neely, telling our class that "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." I now understand that this old saw is based on the fact that winter turns to spring during the month, but I grew up outside Syracuse, N.Y., where even late March tends to be quite leonine, so it baffled me endlessly as a child.

In Washington this year, March managed to go out in a vaguely lamb-ish way. A string of warmer days at the end still left the average temperature for the month at 43.8 degrees, according to National Weather Service data, three degrees below the historical average and considerably cooler than recent years. The average temperature last March was a record-high 56.8.

Large temperature variations from year to year have significant implications, most obviously for farmers and gardeners but also for utility companies estimating energy use, city managers budgeting for snow and sports teams worrying about scheduling. Are we getting any better at predicting the weather weeks or months in advance?

Before getting to the science, it's important to recognize that there have been false starts and inflated claims in the business of long-term weather forecasting.

Consider the most famous American weather prognosticators, the Farmers' Almanac, published in Lewiston, Maine, and the Old Farmer's Almanac, produced in Dublin, N.H. The writers of these venerable books claim to use top-secret formulas, and followers of the New Hampshire version claim it is 80 percent accurate.

It's impossible, however, to fully assess the books' accuracy, because many of their predictions read like a meteorological fortune cookie: vague enough to accommodate a wide range of weather. Both publications, for example, tend to make such predictions as "sunny, cool" in four- or five-day chunks. In any given workweek, there are usually periods of sun and some temperature variation. Does that make the prediction correct?

Text Only | Photo Reprints
CNHI Special Projects
LOCAL MAGAZINES
2013 Photos of the year


Take a look at our most memorable photos from 2013.

SPECIAL CONTENT
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
AP Video
Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case
2013 Photos of the year


Take a look at our most memorable photos from 2013.