SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Community News Network

April 17, 2013

Everybody talks about the weather, but it's not easy to predict

I remember my first-grade teacher, Ms. Neely, telling our class that "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." I now understand that this old saw is based on the fact that winter turns to spring during the month, but I grew up outside Syracuse, N.Y., where even late March tends to be quite leonine, so it baffled me endlessly as a child.

In Washington this year, March managed to go out in a vaguely lamb-ish way. A string of warmer days at the end still left the average temperature for the month at 43.8 degrees, according to National Weather Service data, three degrees below the historical average and considerably cooler than recent years. The average temperature last March was a record-high 56.8.

Large temperature variations from year to year have significant implications, most obviously for farmers and gardeners but also for utility companies estimating energy use, city managers budgeting for snow and sports teams worrying about scheduling. Are we getting any better at predicting the weather weeks or months in advance?

Before getting to the science, it's important to recognize that there have been false starts and inflated claims in the business of long-term weather forecasting.

Consider the most famous American weather prognosticators, the Farmers' Almanac, published in Lewiston, Maine, and the Old Farmer's Almanac, produced in Dublin, N.H. The writers of these venerable books claim to use top-secret formulas, and followers of the New Hampshire version claim it is 80 percent accurate.

It's impossible, however, to fully assess the books' accuracy, because many of their predictions read like a meteorological fortune cookie: vague enough to accommodate a wide range of weather. Both publications, for example, tend to make such predictions as "sunny, cool" in four- or five-day chunks. In any given workweek, there are usually periods of sun and some temperature variation. Does that make the prediction correct?

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News

Local News
  • Salem's Collins seeks longer day

    SALEM -- Collins Middle School may look a little different next year. For starters, longtime Principal Mary Manning, who has headed the school for more than 20 years, is retiring and will be replaced by a new, yet-unnamed principal. More than that, t

    April 19, 2014 6 Stories

  • 140418_SN_KYU_WALK_2 Walking the Walk BEVERLY -- Four hundred thirty walkers, 10.5 miles and $65,000. Those are the numbers you can count on just about every year from the Good Friday Walk. The 35th annual walk produced those figures once again yesterday, with the money going to help nee

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Marblehead chief charts drop in crime MARBLEHEAD -- Police chief Robert Picariello has highlighted an overall drop in crime from 2012 to 2013 in his annual report to the town. The decrease was substantial in the category of crimes against persons, down 23 percent for incidents like rape,

    April 19, 2014

  • North Shore residents to run in 2014 Boston Marathon

    The Salem News asked those on the North Shore who are running this year's Boston Marathon to share their reasons for running. 

    If you're running the marathon this year, it's not too late to share why you're running. Send a brief paragraph, a photo of yourself and a link to your fundraising site (if applicable) to Cheryl Richardson at crichardson@salemnews.com.

    April 17, 2014

  • One-way school bus passes to get trial run in Peabody PEABODY -- Students will be able to ride the school bus one way next year without paying the price of a round-trip fare. The School Committee has agreed to offer one-way passes on a trial basis following review of transportation data and a proposal f

    April 19, 2014