ALBANY — Betting against El Nino last year cost the Old Farmer’s Almanac some accuracy points with its last edition, but Editor Janice Stillman says she’s confident the book will bounce back to its 80 percent accuracy rate with the landmark 225th edition for 2017 that was recently released.
The almanac forecast each year is done around January. In January 2015, the book’s meteorologist thought El Nino, the warming of water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that affects weather patterns in the United States, wouldn’t be a strong one.
“That blew our forecast out of the water, considering it was El Nino and hot water, no pun intended,” Stillman said in a recent phone interview. “Traditionally, our forecasts are about 80 percent accurate, and before that one we had a real high accuracy rate of 96.3 percent the previous winter. We were about 55 percent (with the 2016 book). But it’s OK, we’ll give it another college try. You can’t fool mother nature, she had her way.”
Looking at Southwest Georgia — and this probably won’t be a big surprise — you might not need to get the jackets and sweaters out too early this fall. And umbrellas and overcoats aren’t likely to be needed too often if the almanac’s forecast holds true.
“This coming year, we’re looking for you folks to have a warmer than normal winter with below-normal precipitation,” Stillman said. “December will be especially warm. We’re looking at 8 degrees above average. January, 4 degrees above average. And so it goes, really.
“It should be really a comfortable winter — if folks like the warm weather.”
So, no white Christmas. Again.
“Christmas Day, it may be showery, but it will be mild,” she said. “Maybe they’ll be able to get away with shorts and galoshes. It’s a nice place to live. I don’t see any extremes, really.”
The weather could balance out some in the summer of 2017, which would be especially nice after the sweltering one that has hung on tenaciously this year.
“Summer will be about average, maybe slightly below normal temperatures,” Stillman said, with June averaging 3 degrees below normal and August 1 degree under. “All in all, it looks like a pretty good year.”
While some have their doubts about almanacs, others swear by them. The books — containing information on everything from sunrise and sunset to astronomical phenomena to the best times to wean animals, slaughter them for food, go fishing or even start a diet — are nearly as old as America.
Stillman notes that when Robert B. Thomas published his first The Farmer’s Almanac in 1792, George Washington was the president and people conveyed down dirt roads. While books and the internet bring tons of information to the public these days, that wasn’t the case when the almanac was started.
“Quite often, there was only one other publication to read in the house,” she said, “and that was the Bible.”
Some of the pages from that first edition published for the Boston area — “for the year of our Lord 1793” — have been reproduced in the 2017 book. (Operated out of Dublin, N.H., it now has zoned magazines, such as the Southern edition that includes Georgia.) Stillman said Thomas set out to create a book that was “useful with a pleasant degree of humor” because he believed that in addition to being informed, “people needed a lift; they needed a little fun in their lives.”
Which is why witty sayings, anecdotes, oddities and points of interest are included with the calendar pages, which Thomas would have no problem recognizing more than two centuries later.
“The format of the calendar pages, which are the heart and the soul of the almanac, are like Robert B. Thomas set forth,” Stillman said.
But you can also find out things like George Washington’s recipe for making home brew in the article called “Froth of Our Fathers,” which includes a look at America’s Founding Fathers and beer, as well as such facts as a crater on the moon named Beer. It was not, it turns out, named for the beverage, but for Wilhelm Beer, who created the first exact map of the moon.
And you can find out how fish heads can make for some tasty tomatoes grown with a dry-farming technique.
“There are many parts of the country experiencing drought and the cost of water can be prohibitive, so I went to the folks on the West Coast who know a lot about drought,” Stillman said.
The technique requires preparation of a cover crop and adding compost, which help the plot retain moisture. Then, she said, “You want to add a few things.”
A vegetable fertilizer and a handful of bone meal won’t raise eyebrows, but the secret ingredient that follows might.
“The secret is a small fish head for each plant if you have one, or some fish meal,” she said, adding, “maybe now’s the time to save some fish heads.”
Oh, and you’ll need non-coated aspirin and some crushed eggshells.
“It’s a bit of a secret ingredient,” Stillman said, “but they say it works.
“You can expect an especially tasty harvest. It may not be as plump a tomato as you’re used to, but it will save you a lot of time and trouble if you start properly. It’s actually an ancient technique, so it’s nothing they invented, but they’ve found it works.”
Matters of the heart don’t escape the almanac, which has tips for dating in an electronic age. For instance, choose an online user name that starts with a letter in the first half of the alphabet. If you’re a guy, you want a name that sounds “smart,” a woman one that “hints at beauty.”
For the all-important first-impression selfie? “Center yourself in the photo, but tilt your head and smile enough to cause eye creases,” Stillman said. “And, ladies, wear red.”
She noted that it takes a man about 15 minutes to decide whether he wants a second date, while a woman can take up to an hour.
“If the guys would slow down and the ladies would speed up,” she quipped, “they might get along a whole lot better.”
In past interviews with The Herald, Stillman has said that the most frequently asked question for the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has zipped into the 21st century with a mobile-friendly website that pulls in 9 million visits a month and a Facebook page, are about the moon. But as 2017 progresses, she’s likely to get more inquiries about the sun.
“You folks are lucky to be where you are for the first total solar eclipse in 38 years next August 21st,” she said, adding the path across the U.S. will range from roughly Portland, Ore., to Columbia, S.C. It’ll also occur around midday, she said,which should make for optimum viewing, providing mother nature cooperates.
“It’s kind of quiet now, but I think it’ll be very exciting,” she said, adding she knows of at least one town in Missouri along the best viewing line that’s already preparing for an influx of visitors next summer.
The almanac has tips on viewing, which includes not looking directly into a solar eclipse without sufficient eye protection of at least No. 12 or 14 welder’s glass.
One thing to look for: In a full eclipse, an unusual wind “comes up as the sun is covered and uncovered,” and it’s not completely dark. There’s an unusual light that has “a shimmering affect.”
“You cannot catch it (the effect) with a camera,” she said.