Almanack predicts long but not harsh winter

September 17, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ


If you believe in long-range moon-phase weather forecasting, prepare for a "long, but not particularly deep or intense" winter, with about 42 inches of snow.

The just-released 2005 Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack predicts it will be so.

The Almanack - Hagerstown's homespun, hometown blend of science, folklore and esoterica - was founded by John Gruber in 1797.

No matter how often it explains legal holidays (Columbus Day is the second Monday in October), gives Hints for the Housewife ("Thaw frozen fish in a bowl of milk") or runs its Presidents' Poem ("Twentieth, GARFIELD becomes our head/Twenty-first, ARTHUR, succeeds the dead"), the Almanack might be best known for its weather forecasts.

For 35 years, the forecaster has been William O'Toole, a math and computer science professor at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md.


O'Toole predicted 70 inches of snow last winter, but the season only brought 41.2 inches, the 2005 Almanack says.

O'Toole says an unexpected change to a pressure system phenomenon known as the North Atlantic Oscillation "derailed" his forecast, which started well.

He uses a system that measures the time of day that the moon changes its phases. Sunspots or the warm Pacific Ocean phase known as El Nio might force alterations.

In the 2003 Almanack, he predicted 45 inches of snow, but 75.3 inches fell. Other years, he's been within a few inches.

"Lately, I'm either very close or very far," he said.

Some weather watchers might wait to see what the woolly bear caterpillars' bands signify next month. The Almanack says the width of the bands supposedly indicates the length and the severity of the coming winter.

The Almanack will hold its annual woolly bear contest Oct. 4 to 29, a search for the biggest and the cuddliest.

Alternately, a page of more speculative forecasting, called "The Old-Fashioned Way," offers proverbs such as "If a cat sits with its back to the fire, there will be bad weather" and "If the sun sets behind a cloud on Thursday, it will rain on Sunday."

Gerald W. Spessard, the Almanack's business manager, said he aims to have copies at newsstands by Labor Day each year, but the current edition was delayed a few weeks at the printer.

In a survey of 10 grocery and department stores and pharmacies that sell periodicals on Thursday, two - CVS on Dual Highway and Books 'n Things in Long Meadow Plaza - had copies of the 2005 Almanack in stock.

Some expect to have it soon, while others don't plan to carry it.

Spessard said some large chain stores don't consider the Almanack a national publication and won't carry it.

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