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Almanack officials keeping an eye on El Nino

September 03, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

The Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack hits the newsstands this week, predicting a slightly snowier winter than usual.

But almanac officials are treading carefully on the prediction, especially considering the odd, unpredictable weather in the last year.

A weird jet stream has persisted over the area in the last year, creating a mild winter that completely threw off the almanac's prediction, according to Jerry Spessard, business manager of the almanack.

The almanack predicted 61 inches of snow last year, but only 27.5 inches fell.

But that doesn't stop the folks at the almanack from trying again, and they stand faithfully behind their idea of predicting the weather based on sunspots. The belief is that the frequency of sunspots ultimately affects weather on Earth, Spessard said.

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The almanac is predicting 49 inches of snow this winter. Normal snowfall for Hagerstown for the season is about 35 inches, Spessard said. The first snowstorm will be on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, according to the almanac. The almanac also is predicting a white Christmas with two snowstorms hitting the area Dec. 19-21 and Dec. 24-26, the almanac said.

One factor in this winter's forecast will be El Nino, said Bill O'Toole, weather prognosticator for the almanac. El Nino is a abnormal warming of the waters off the West Coast that usually "turns weather all over the world upside down," O'Toole said.

The last big El Nino to hit the region was Feb. 23, 1983, when the area awoke to about 35 inches of snow, O'Toole said.

"I'll stick with 49 inches and keep my fingers crossed," he said.

Data on sunspots, which have been used by the almanac to predict weather for 201 years, is collected through a naval observatory, Spessard said.

The first Hagerstown almanac was published in 1797 by John Gruber.

Besides weather predictions, the 63-page almanac tells in its down-home style when to plant crops, when to go fishing, where to buy a butter churn, or how to live life.

"Don't smoke. Don't drink. Go to bed early. Eat plain foods. You may not live any longer, but it will seem like it," the almanac reads on page 27.

The almanac, which sells for $2.25, has had sales of around 150,000 in recent years and has received nationwide attention for the accuracy of its predictions.

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