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Almanack predicted 23-inch snowstorm

February 19, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

While many people probably weren't jumping for joy during last weekend's record-breaking 23-inch snowstorm in Hagerstown or in its messy aftermath, the business manager for J. Gruber's Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack was all smiles.

"We've had two years in a row where our predictions weren't too good," Jerry Spessard said Tuesday afternoon of the 206-year-old publication. "We're really proud this year."

Last October, the nation's second-oldest almanac predicted 45 inches of snow for the 2002-03 winter season. Spessard was quoted then as saying, "we're really out on a limb with this one."

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Turns out that limb was stronger than the almanac or Spessard imagined. The official season snowfall total for Hagers-town to date is 51.6 inches, almost half of which came Feb. 14-17, according to the Web site of local weather observer Greg Keefer, i4weather.com.

"Bill O'Toole really wanted this one to be right and as it turned out, we were only off a day," Spessard said. The almanac had targeted Feb. 13-15 for snow

O'Toole, a math and computer science professor at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md., makes the almanac weather predictions. Those were off as far as snowfall last winter as well as the record-breaking drought of the summer of 2002.

O'Toole's latest winter forecast agreed with those of two other almanacs, the 210-year-old Old Farmer's Almanac, published in Dublin, N.H., and the Farmers' Almanac, of Lewiston, Maine, now in its 186th year.

As far as the almanac's forecast for the rest of the winter of 2003, there is supposed to be another three-day snowstorm Feb. 20-22, Spessard said.

But Spessard believes that will be more rain than snow.

"It has gotten warmer than expected but I don't think anyone is too disappointed," Spessard said Tuesday.

The last big predicted snowstorm of the season is March 5 and 6, Spessard said. From then on, he said, it should be all rain and then it will be spring.

The almanac's explanation is that the prognostications "are the result of many years' actual observation; the whole being constructed on a due consideration of the Sun and Moon, in their several positions respecting the earth."

The 64-page almanac's Web site is at www.almanack.com, but it mainly has home remedies, farming and gardening tips.

The Hagerstown almanac sponsors an annual Woolly Bear Contest, begun 20 years ago to raise the publication's profile. Each October, children are asked to take the fuzzy caterpillars to Spessard's office so a judge can make a winter weather prediction based on the width of their brown-and-black bands.

The 72 woolly bear entrants this year indicated a winter that would be colder than normal at the beginning and milder toward the end. Temperatures in January included several record lows, according to Keefer's Web site.

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