Everybody would like to know what the weather is going to be like this winter after a couple of hard winters with heavy snowfall.
Since 1792, The Old Farmer's Almanac has made long-term forecasts for the next year's weather, based on a secret formula kept in a locked black box in its office in Dublin, N.H. The exact formula is a closely-guarded secret, as is the identity of its forecaster, who traditionally uses the pseudonym Caleb Weatherbee.
The founder Robert B. Thomas believed the weather was affected by sunspots. Since its founding the Almanac has updated traditional folk methods of long-range weather forecasting with pretty standard techniques used by the National Weather Service, and claims an average yearly accuracy rate of about 80 percent.
This year the Almanac predicts a colder-than-normal winter for the Upper Midwest, with precipitation and snowfall above normal in the west part of Minnesota, and below normal in the eastern part of the state.
For December, the Almanac predicts: "Temp. 15.5 degrees (three degrees above average, east, average west); precipitation two inches (one about average.) Snow, then sunny, cold. Dec. 6-12, A few rain and snow showers, mild. Dec. 13-16, Snow, then sunny, then cold."
So how seriously do farmers take The Farmer's Almanac?
George Vierstraete is a retired farmer who lives in the Marshall area.
"I hope they're wrong," Vierstraete said. "So far it's been real good. A lot of people believe it. My dad couldn't wait for it to come out."
Others are more skeptical. Jim Fox farms west of Marshall and doesn't read the Almanac.
"It's (winter) going to be shorter because it didn't start as early," Fox said. "Every morning I watch TV out of Sioux Falls and that's pretty much how I get my information."
Joe VanOverbeke farms south of Marshall and is also a skeptic.
Asked about what kind of winter he expected, VanOverbeke replied, "Tell you next spring. They don't know what it's going to do 10 days from now."
However, Kathy Condon who farms with her husband Bob near Clara City, reads the Almanac and thinks there is some common sense in it.
"I read about how if a lot of acorns fall in the fall, the winter will be cold with a lot of snow," Condon said.
Chris Franks, a meteorologist with the Chanhassen office of the National Weather Service, is not familiar with the Almanac, but said it gets by being rather vague about its predictions.
"Average snowfall would make sense," Franks said. "But 'cold winter' is pretty subjective. Some would say every winter is cold."
However, a glance at the Almanac shows it does get pretty specific about predictions of how much temperature and precipitation will be above or below average, using the same 30-year average the NWS uses.
"Long-range forecasts are difficult because we're basing this on statistical analysis of previous winters, and no two winters are alike," Franks said.
Franks said the NWS predicts a 30 to 40 percent chance of above-normal precipitation in this area, based on the behavior of the cold Pacific Ocean current La Nina, and the Arctic isolation factor, among others.
And while weather prediction has gotten much better the past 15 years at predicting the weather within a two-week period, meteorology may very well have reached the theoretical limit for long-range forecast accuracy, according to Franks.
As to whether there is anything to be learned from traditional methods of seasonal forecasting, opinions are divided and some farmers seemed reluctant to admit taking the Almanac seriously.
One farmer who did not want to be named, said, "My son reads it religiously. And I've noticed the coats on my two horses have gotten really thick."