Last summer, the Farmers' Almanac predicted a winter packed with "days of shivery."
That forecast seemed to bear out as several polar vortexes dipped down from Canada and froze much of the country — including Hampton Roads. Some doubters began to wonder if there wasn't something after all to prognosticating by woolly bear caterpillars, the hair on a cow's neck, rings around the moon and sunspots.
Now the almanac is forecasting a sequel for this winter.
For the Atlantic Seaboard in particular, the 2015 edition is red-flagging the first 10 days of January and the first week of February for "active wintry weather featuring bouts of heavy precipitation and strong winds."
And in mid-March, there is another red flag for "widespread wintry conditions."
"All of us at the Farmers' Almanac suggest you stock up on firewood, sweaters and hot cocoa," noted its longtime prognosticator Caleb Weatherbee. "It certainly looks like another long winter of shivery and shovelry is on tap."
Caleb Weatherbee is the pseudonym the almanac has used for years for the men and women who come up with its forecasts.
But how accurate was Weatherbee last year?
Certainly his forecast was more accurate than the national Climate Prediction Center, which had high confidence in above-normal temperatures from November through January. The center is one of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction under the National Weather Service (NWS), which is part the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But local weather experts — the trained professionals — say don't mark your calendars and stock up on cocoa just yet.
Not that cold
For one thing, last winter wasn't as frigid as you might think, when you figure temperature averages.
"As far as we go locally, we weren't too far below normal," said Mike Montefusco, a meteorologist with the NWS in Wakefield.
In fact, he said, December temperatures were slightly above average for the month, while temperatures for January and February were only 3 degrees and 1.2 degrees below average, respectively.
Wakefield meteorologist Larry Brown said the general perception of a bad winter last year might be fueled by the fact the region has experienced some fairly mild, above-average winters in the last 15 years or so.
For another thing, there's the sheer unreliability of making weather forecasts six months out.
"Long-term weather forecasting is a difficult business," said Chuck Bailey, a geologist who teaches weather and climate at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. "And atmospheric physicists, meteorologists do a pretty good job predicting weather a week or so out. Within two days, even better. But when you talk months ... "
In fact, one season's forecast success can be countered by the next season's flop. The Farmers' Almanac, for instance, had predicted this summer would be hot and humid for much of the country, when instead it was relatively cool and dry.
Still, said Bailey, people tend to remember the successes and forget the failures, reinforcing the tendency toward confirmation bias.
"So when it was quite cold here last January, they had predicted it being quite cold, so all the sudden — wow, they got it right!" Bailey said. "We oftentimes overlook the times when we get it wrong."