Almanack makes winter predictions

September 14, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |
  • Bill O'Toole, weather prognosticator for Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack, is shown with the hand-drawn weather maps he makes each lunar week to predict a weather pattern as much as eighteen months in advance.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — The 2012 Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack predicts three nor’easters will hit the mid-Atlantic region this winter, but what actually develops will depend on water in the Pacific, according to its weather predictor.

“I think it all depends on La Niña,” said Bill O’Toole, weather prognosticator for The Gruber Almanack, LLC, which produces the publication along with the nationally distributed J. Gruber’s Garden and Farm Almanac.

La Niña, meaning “the little girl” in Spanish, is a weather phenomenon marked by colder than normal water in the eastern Pacific Ocean around the equator, O’Toole said.

It is the counterpart to El Niño — meaning “the Christ child,” so named because of its frequent late December appearance — which is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific.

La Niña rarely stays long, O’Toole said.  La Niña appeared in the fall of 2010, according to O’Toole’s “Conjecturer’s Column” in the 2012 almanacs.

“Most likely La Niña will continue to fade away and we will enter a ‘neutral period’ without La Niña or her brother El Niño,” he said in his column. “But there is a possibility that La Niña will be come stronger again later in 2011.”

O’Toole predicted this coming winter and its three nor’easters — a term for storms that either exit or move north along the East Coast — for the 2012 almanac as if La Niña will disappear, he said.

“Two years in a row (of La Niña) is very, very unusual,” he said during a recent interview.

If La Niña does not return, the region will likely face a “pretty wet” winter with average temperatures and an increased likelihood of a more severe winter, with heavier snow in February, he said.

“If she is the same strength as last winter it will be a repeat of last winter — cold and relatively dry for the first half, wet and mild for the second half,” O’Toole said. “If a stronger La Niña returns it will bode as cold with a fair amount of snow.”

The 2012 Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack — distributed in the mid-Atlantic region — and the J. Gruber’s Garden and Farm Almanac began appearing on newsstands on Sept. 1, said Jerry Spessard, business manager for The Gruber Almanack.

Between the two publications, more than 300,000 almanacs will go out this year, Spessard said.

Most readers pick up an almanac for the weather predictions, he said.

O’Toole, a retired professor of mathematics and computer science at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., has been predicting for the almanac since 1969, he said. When the company added its national almanac last year, his predictions appeared in both publications.  

He makes his predictions at least six to 18 months in advance using a combination of methods, including the Herschel chart, which is a historic method for forecasting weather, O’Toole said.  

Often, his predictions are spot-on, as when he predicted that a hurricane would hit the United States in August, which turned out to be Hurricane Irene.

“I didn’t know it would be called Irene when I drew the map 14 months in advance,” he said.

In June of 2010 he said he drew a map for the lunar week beginning Aug. 28, 2011, and it showed a hurricane just of off the coast of Georgia about to move up the East Coast.

Although many buy an almanacs for their weather prognostications, Spessard said he often hears that readers love its other content as well.

This year there will be more for readers to love, Editor Chad Fisher said.

Each publication was increased by 20 pages and expanded weather information, adding forecasts for the months of September through December 2011, along with all of 2012, Fisher said.

Spessard said those looking to buy a copy of the almanacs can find a list of retailers or order one online at

Although it was not announced in the print almanacs, Fisher said the annual woolly bear caterpillar contest will also return this year.

The markings of the caterpillar are traditionally believed to predict how severe or mild it will be in the coming winter.

The Gruber Almanac is planning to kick off its 29th annual contest on Oct. 1, he said.

Last year, the contest went digital and nationwide, with entries submitted as photos through Facebook and via email.

It will be online again this year, he said.

In the past, caterpillars were brought to Woolly Bear Headquarters in Hagerstown to be measured and judged.

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