Weather Forecasting: Myth or Reality

Humans have always wanted to predict the future. Never has this been truer than when it comes to the weather. For years, meteorologists have given five-day forecasts and precise hour-by-hour predictions, but imagine if you could give a 360-day forecast.

Though most experts say it's nearly impossible to predict anything yearly as accurately as you can from day to day, don't tell that to farmer Jack Ponticelli.

Ponticelli and his son Aron are proud owners of the Piedmont Truffle Farm in North Carolina. They expect multimillion-dollar returns this year and happily give some credit to "The Old Farmer's Almanac."

"We use the almanac to help us schedule our workers, to schedule planting, and for general weather patterns over the year, for our irrigation system and also for fuel budgeting," explained Ponticelli.

Dartboard Science

For 216 years, "The Old Farmer's Almanac" has given its day to day predictions, 18 months in advance, on everything from scattered thunderstorms to sunshine. For Ponticelli, the almanac is a tool that he believes few farmers will be quick to abandon.

"As science becomes more advanced, they may not use the almanac as much as they used to in the past but they'll still rely on the almanac," he said. "Farmers are very traditional people and they tend to use things that they know and understand."

But not everyone trusts the almanac's information. Paul Knight teaches a class on long-range meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, and, like many in his field, he regards the almanac as "dartboard science."

"I think it's difficult to buy any science that is not explaining how they do their work. So, certainly anybody can say anything they want about what it'll be like a year from now, but if you want to claim any credibility in the scientific sense, and also be able to have people buy into what you're forecasting, you have to show your technique," Knight said.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding the science behind the almanac, nearly all meteorologists agree that forecasting long range, or any time frame further than 10 days ahead, is possible. The difficult part is getting the forecasts correct.

Knight explained the different criteria between long-range and short-range forecasts: "The information that's available in a longer term is much more of the trend variety, so ... the temperatures will average above or below normal, or a heat wave or a cold wave. It's nothing specific, as in short-range."

Predicting Weather for Big Name Corporations

Yet, giving specifics is exactly what a handful of meteorologists are daring to do by predicting next year's weather right now. For Bill Kirk, CEO of Weather Trends International, forecasting general weather trends a year from now is only the beginning. His predictions already include daily temperatures, weekly amounts of rain and monthly amounts of snow one year from now.

His clientele list reads like a who's who of name brand products. "We work with huge corporations: Wal-Mart, Khol's, Anheiser Busch, Duraflame, I mean these are huge corporations that, for six years ... for the fees we charge if we were wrong, they wouldn't subscribe next year," he said.

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