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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dirty Snow, Awful Winter

From my second floor study window, the view is nothing but a massive sheet of ice and snow. The drifts are so high on my kitchen roof I’m afraid that something will snap. Everything is so snowbound I feel trapped. The recent storms have caused life to stop in its tracks: events, get-togethers, even the daily mail has been cancelled as friends and neighbors barricade themselves in their homes. It’s as if the planet had slipped into an eerie End Time scenario.
The general inconvenience is lost on the kids who seem to delight in this blast of Antarctica. They huddle beside snow drifts and make igloos. They sled. They throw snowballs. They walk on planks of ice, giggling.
The adults, meanwhile, pack the aisles of the local Wine and Spirits store to stock up on their favorite beverage. They need a little something to help them cope, and who can blame them? This has been the winter from hell, when Frosty the Snowman has become the Abominable Snowman.
The month of February may boast Valentine’s Day as its signature calling card, but so far it has offered little except aggravation and stress.
Until this winter, I was never much of a believer in the Farmers’ Almanac, but when I had a chat with Judson Hale, editor of the Almanac at the Hinge Café in Port Richmond in October of last year, I got an early heads up on what lay ahead in the world of weather.
The Almanac has been in the Hale family since the 1930s, when Mr. Hale’s uncle, a tall man who resembled Abraham Lincoln, became the 11th editor.
An eclectic publication, in the past the Almanac has advertised returnable (if they don’t fit) false teeth for $100; glass eyes that do not rotate like a real pupil but which can be ordered in different colors ($50.00) Former President Jimmy Carter once had an advertisement in The Almanac about how to raise fish worms. Pre-Viagra pills were sold as Rooster pills.
Mr. Hale is a tall, quintessential New England Yankee—white hair, lean, angular face, a ready smile. He told me that the Almanac is the oldest continuing publication in America, founded in 1792. “It’s so old that George Washington used to read it, and its world famous weather predictions have over a sixty-five percent accuracy rate,” he said.
Predicting the weather for a given winter six months in advance is really going out on a limb, not unlike—I thought-- all those grown men in silly hats examining fat (non-edible) groundhogs for shadows.
“Does The Almanac use psychics for the weather?” I asked Mr. Hale.
“Well, the secret formula for weather forecasts has to do with sunspots. Right now we are into Sunspot cycle 24. It is very, very quiet, and there are few sunspots. Whenever it’s been quiet sunspot-wise for a long time, it’s been very cool,” he said.
In using the word ‘cool,’ Mr. Hale erred on the side of caution. He told me later, after we had finished our Hinge egg sandwiches, that, ‘cool’ really means a terribly cold winter with above average snowfall in January and February 2010.
February, in case you haven’t noticed, is only half over. So there’s still plenty of time for my kitchen roof to cave-in, thanks to Sunspot cycle 24.
In predicting the weather, Mr. Hale told me that his staff “uses the most modern, high tech information” for accuracy. Of course he wouldn’t tell me what these high tech methods were, because that would be giving away secrets. Whatever The Almanac’s formula is, it obviously works, and I have to wonder, as I guess you are wondering also, what took me so long to pay attention to what I had heretofore thought of as a corny little yearly journal that seemed more of a joke than something to be taken seriously.
Make no mistake, I’m paying attention now, and will be looking to see what’s in store for the winter of 2011.
To prove The Almanac’s accuracy, Mr. Hale told me a story about The Almanac’s 1816 editor, Robert B. Thomas, who used sunspots to predict the weather for 1816. Mr. Thomas wrote that it would snow throughout the summer. “He became a laughing stock after that,” Mr. Hale said, “so he tried to get all the copies off the newsstands, destroying everything he could, and had the Almanac reprinted. He remained the laughing stock till late spring when Mt. Tabora in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) erupted one hundred times bigger than Mt. Saint Helen’s, and the dust from Mt. Tabora circled the globe causing 1816 to be “the summer of no summer.”
In other words, it did actually snow in New England during the summer of 1816.

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