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Almanack predicts 50 inches of snow

September 12, 2000

Almanack predicts 50 inches of snow



By ANDREW SCHOTZ / Staff Writer


It will be tough for weather prognosticator William O'Toole to top his snowfall projection for last winter.

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In the 2000 J. Gruber's Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack, O'Toole predicted 45 inches of snow would fall between November 1999 and March 2000. The total snowfall turned out to be 44.6 inches.

It may have been his finest year.

"I suspect so," said O'Toole, who has been predicting weather for the Almanack since 1969.

In the 2001 edition, which is on sale now, O'Toole is calling for 50 inches of snow to fall between November 2000 and March 2001.

Weather forecasters shy away from guarantees, but indications look good for another accurate year for O'Toole. Weather factors that could spoil his predictions - such as sun spots, or storms on the sun's surface - probably will be minimal, he said.

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His system, devised by 18th-century German astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel, relies on the time of day that the moon changes its phase. The closer to noon the change, the higher the likelihood of wet, windy, stormy weather that week.

O'Toole, 58, a math and computer science professor at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md., said he's the seventh weather prognosticator since the Almanack was founded in 1797.

In 1969, when longtime prognosticator William Shoemaker died, then Almanack Business Manager Jack Hershey looked for someone to replace him.

O'Toole's name was suggested by C.C. Moler, who belonged to the same astronomy club as O'Toole when they were teenagers.

When Hershey contacted him, O'Toole said he knew he could do the astronomical calculations, but he was unsure about the weather predictions. Hershey gave him a stack of papers explaining Shoemaker's methods, which confirmed some theories that O'Toole already had.

Today, the weather still holds people's interest.

In January, when O'Toole forecast a storm that the National Weather Service missed, the Town and Country Almanack was heralded on NBC's "Nightly News."

O'Toole also made national news in 1994 when he predicted the first 14 snowstorms to hit the East Coast.

"Most people don't give a darn about sunrises, sunsets and eclipse data, and that's what takes up most of (my) time," he said.

Weather watchers are among the regular followers, but Gerald Spessard, the Almanack's business manager, is worried that the readership is aging.

He said the Almanack, with its recipes, folksy maxims, poultry notes and handyman's hints, is fighting for attention in a media glut. He's working on new ways to boost the annual publication's circulation, which stands at about 140,000, down from 200,000 in its heyday.

Spessard expects a prototype CD-ROM containing the Almanack to be finished this week. When it arrives from Columbia, Md., he will negotiate contracts with mainstream national magazines, such as Ladies' Home Journal, to include the CD-ROM in their publications.

"We have to get to the Internet users," Spessard said.

The Almanack's Web site lists only information about the publication, not what's in it.

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