The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has a motto of “useful, with a pleasant degree of humor,” has been consulted for weather-related issues since 1792.
But it’s not much respected by current-day meteorologists.
So when United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz told Marketplace that the almanac was calling for a “very nasty winter” and that the airline was planning accordingly, weather experts pounced.
“The fact that United Airlines is making their winter weather preparations using the Farmer’s Almanac is pretty sad,” said Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist and hurricane expert with Colorado State University on Twitter.
Munoz was talking about the challenges of operating a major airline and said one of the hardest things historically has been dealing with weather, which is something no one can control.
“Things do happen, we know they happen – we don’t exactly know when they are going to happen – but we should definitely be prepped.” Munoz told Marketplace. “A very quick example: Farmer’s Almanac is calling for a very nasty winter, particularly in Chicago – one of our main hubs. So as we speak, our operating team is hard at work as to how are we going to accommodate passengers.”
According to the almanac’s website, it derives its weather forecasts from a “secret formula” that was devised by the founder in 1792 and that focused on how the Earth was influenced by sunspots.
“Over the years we have refined and enhanced that formula with state-of-the-art technology and modern scientific calculations,” the site states.
Charlie Hobart, a spokesman for United, told The Palm Beach Post this morning that Munoz was speaking anecdotally and doesn’t rely on the almanac for forecasts.
Hobart said Munoz was generally referring to the likelihood that the Chicago area would get severe weather this winter and that the company was trying to prepare for it.
“We have long range and daily forecasts, but these are from our team of aviation meteorologists that work out of our network operations center in Chicago,” Hobart said. “We do not use the almanac for planning purposes. He was using it as an example of what people are predicting.”
Jason Samenow, the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang’s chief meteorologist, has written previously about being wary of forecasts in the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
And Samenow said this week that no “serious business should be using these almanacs for weather-related decisions. But, here again, is a teachable moment to explain what these almanacs are and are not.”
He then posts a reprint of a column he wrote last year quoting meteorologists about their thoughts on almanac accuracy:
“[Here’s] your annual reminder that using the Farmers Almanac for a seasonal meteorological outlook is about as good as going to a psychic,” tweeted Matt Lanza, a meteorologist based in Houston.
“[It’s a] forecast that has as much accuracy as a Magic 8 ball,” wrote Connecticut broadcast meteorologist Ryan Hanrahan on his Facebook page.
[I]t’s basically the print version of a psychic reading on a 1-900 number,” wrote Dennis Mersereau, who pens Gawker’s weather vertical, The Vane. “The Old Farmer’s Almanac is to meteorology what astrology is to astronomy.”
Weather experts also took to Twitter to discuss the almanac accuracy.