The Internet Is Now Basically Just a Version of a Farmer’s Almanac

The Old Farmer's Almanac predicts snow in the Northeast. (It usually snows in the Northeast.)

Simon Harrod via Flickr

The U.S.'s oldest-running periodical, The Old Farmer's Almanac, is now shipping their 2018 issue. And as a matter of fact, so is the Farmer's Almanac—a publication with a similar goal that's old but not as old as the original. But in the age of the internet, do we really need such a thing?

There are two primary, competitive almanacs in the U.S.: one is technically called The Old Farmer’s Almanac, founded in 1792 as the “Farmer’s Almanac.” In 1848, “Old” was permanently added to its name to reflect its age, which is confusing, because the other almanac is called the Farmers’ Almanac, and was founded in 1818. For what it’s worth, a full run of the original The Old Farmer’s Almanac housed at the Smithsonian Institution—none of the other almanacs can say that.

Both almanacs, in contrast to, say, meteorologists, annually publish long-term weather forecasts of a year or 18 months in advance.  They are not really known to be “correct” or “historically accurate” or, therefore, “useful,” but they are still fun as heck.

Both periodicals contain a wide variety of charts and articles, many within the agricultural arena. Tide tables, planting charts, articles on gardening and large-scale farming, and a whole series of predictions on everything from winter precipitation to fashion trends.  The Farmers’ Almanac just released this year’s forecasts, and they are, as usual, non-specific: a cold, snowy winter in the Northeast; precipitation along the Eastern Seaboard in January, February, and March; slightly drier conditions in the Pacific Northwest than last year; “wide swings in the weather pendulum” in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

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The Farmers’ Almanac claims an “amazingly accurate” forecast. This is hard to measure since its predictions are usually vague enough to infuriate meteorologists. If a month is predicted to be sunny and cool, how do you actually quantify that? If more than half the days are sunny and more than half are cool? If more than half the days are both sunny and cool? How sunny? How cool?

This newer almanac itself seems mostly amused by any attempts to slam it. The chief prognosticator of the Farmers’ Almanac goes under the pseudonym of “Caleb Weatherbee,” and they steadfastly refuses to explain its process for landing on their predictions, which are done years in advance and do not involve any satellite imagery of any sort. It does seems to involve some combination of the tides, sunspot activity, and position of the planets, none of which are really used by professional meteorologists, however. As for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, it mostly relies on past weather predictions according to a formula created by its founder, Robert B. Thomas, with some unspecified recent additions.

These publications aren’t meant to taken as the gospel—or even that seriously. Some of their pet ideas however, like the many amazing uses of vinegar, their seed-saving techniques, even astrology—have become more popular across the web at large. Back in 1997, Jeff MacGregor argued in the New York Times that the internet has essentially become a wider version of an almanac: a weird grab-bag of sometimes useful and sometimes worthless tips and tricks. In the last decade, that take has become even more appropriate: astrology is astoundingly popular, DIY projects that may or may not work have conquered social media, and food and agriculture has become more a part of life on the internet than ever before. There is plenty of criticism out there about how trustworthy the long-term weather forecasts are, and with good reason, but that doesn’t make the almanacs worthless; if you read them with the right mindset, it’s part of the fun.

Both almanacs, whether Old or slightly less old, may have been around for centuries. But everything old is new again.

Correction: Despite our best efforts, we originally managed to confuse The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the Farmer’s Almanac in some instances. This article has been corrected to reflect these changes. We apologize for the error.

The Internet Is Now Basically Just a Version of a Farmer’s Almanac