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Weather can be fickle

No matter which winter forecast you saw and felt was the most accurate when they came our way in October, November and even December, not a single one was able to accurately predict the kind of weather we have seen in the past month.

A look back as February comes to a close shows we had snow on the ground for the entire month and spent most of the days fighting through below-average temperatures.

And while those who had access to the most sophisticated forecasting equipment available and page after page of information to study and report on, it appears that the humble wooly bear caterpillar offered the best outlook.

An observation offered during the early part of December presented just such a case. The variably black-and-tan wooly bears seen in the late fall seemed to be pointing to what would turn out to be a rough winter. Several of those I had seen then were solid black, which folklore tells us meant that there was a bad winter in store.

But the National Weather Service served up a differing outlook. According to the winter season forecast it issued, we had a 40 percent chance of a winter that was warmer than normal and a 33 percent chance of conditions that were wetter than normal.

Forecasters with the weather service based their long-range prediction on a La Nina pattern that had developed in the Pacific Ocean.

It all sounded pretty good at the time. But then reality set in, and the Tri-State Area was hit with more snow during February than had been predicted for the entire winter season.

All of that offers, then, a backdrop against which to view a couple of other time-honored weather forecasting tools, the Old Farmer’s Almanac and the Farmers’ Almanac. Both bring a long history of offering long-range predictions. Old Farmers has been around since 1792, while Farmers’ has been serving up weather and other interesting and useful information since 1818.

Both almanacs claim a pretty good track record when it comes to being able to see into the future. Old Farmer’s claims an accuracy rate of 80 percent, while Farmers’ offers a wider range, saying it gets it right between 75 percent and 85 percent of the time.

It’s not surprising the books get it right so often — they each use a proprietary formula that includes sunspot activity, the position of the planets and mathematics, as well as many other factors.

So how did they do in February? For starters, Old Farmer’s said our region would have an average temperature of 44 for the month, which would br about 10 degrees higher than the average. The forecast also said we have an average amount of 2.5 inches of precipitation for the month for the eastern part of the region (which stretches from roughly from Pittsburgh to the southeast corner of Missouri), with the western portion experiencing 1.5 inches below average.

Old Farmer’s called for snow showers and cold Feb. 1-3; rainy periods and mild Feb. 4-15; sunny and warm Feb. 16-24; and rainy and turning colder Feb. 25-28.

As for Farmers’, its forecast for the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley and Midwest called for initially mild, then sharply colder weather with showers changing to snow showers Feb. 1-3; significant snowfall for Eastern Ohio Feb. 4-7; scattered showers and flurries Feb. 8-11; sunny with clouds and lingering flurries Feb. 12-15; fair and colder Feb. 16-19; pleasant weather Feb. 20-23; and clouds with snow showers Feb. 24-28.

Overall, they were off for most of the month.

So, as for March … Old Farmer’s is calling for periods of rain and snow March 1-7; snow showers and cold March 8-11; rainy and mild March 12-14; showers and warm March 15-23; and snow showers and then sunny and cool March 24-21.

Farmers’ calls for an overall calm and warm month, but does offer a warning for March 24-27, when it is calling for a storm that is expected to bring showers and thunderstorms to our area.

What can we make of it all? Well, remember that weather is really not all that predictable and that spring will be here on March 20 — and while all of the formulas and computer models lend a sense of sophistication to forecasting, we are again reminded that Punxsutawney Phil got it right on Feb. 2 when he saw his shadow.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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