- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Opinion is running hot and cold. The feds and the old farmers, apparently, do not agree on the nation’s winter weather this year. Prognosticating caterpillars have joined the fray as well.

America is in for a mild winter, insists the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which released its winter outlook yesterday.

“It’s pesky El Nino again. It’s going to strengthen, influencing the jet stream over the Pacific and precipitation and temperature patterns across the country. That favors a warmer winter for us,” said Mike Halpert, lead forecaster at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

“Some people will be comforted by this news, some disappointed. But that’s the prediction.”

It’s another story altogether at the Farmers’ Almanac, which has been forecasting weather whims for 188 years.

“Shivery is not dead. We have a lot of attention on global warming, but our winter prediction is for widespread cold from coast to coast,” said Sandi Duncan, managing editor of the Maine-based almanac. “From Gulf Coast to New England, we’ll get unseasonably cold conditions, in fact.”

The almanac has considerable confidence in the meteorological department.

“We make our predictions up to two years in advance, using a formula from 1818, plus planetary positions, sunspots, the moon,” Miss Duncan said. “And we stand by our prediction.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac also predicts a cold winter, basing its conclusions on “solar activities.” The New Hampshire-based publication has made long-range predictions for 215 years, claiming a 99 percent accuracy rate on snowfall forecasts. In contrast to NOAA, the almanac votes for a namby-pamby El Nino.

“A weak El Nino will develop this winter, resulting in below-normal temperatures, on average, in much of the country,” it states.

“There are a bunch of people doing seasonal forecasts,” said NOAA’s Mr. Halpert about the divided opinion. “They don’t use the tools we use, which are state-of-the-art and don’t include sunspots.”

Accuweather, the weather service used by many broadcasters, predicts that El Nino patterns “will lead to colder temperatures for the Northeastern U.S. and Midwest, and a milder winter for the West Coast,” according to long-range forecaster Joe Bastardi.

Perhaps the deciding vote should be left with the woolly bear caterpillars. The fat, fuzzy, orange-and-black caterpillars have long been used as a folksy weather predictor: The wider their orange stripe, the milder the weather, old-timers say.

During the 10th annual Woolly Worm Festival in Hufnagle Park, Pa., on Saturday, the caterpillars revealed a centrist take on it all:

“The winter of 2006-07 should be about average when it comes to temperature, and will likely bring snow,” the caterpillars said in a statement issued on their behalf by lab-coated judges.

“You could have gotten that off the Doppler radar. If it were turned off,” observed John Finnerty, a columnist with the Daily Item, a newspaper in nearby Sunbury.

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