Is snow coming to L.A.? Did the Almanac predict it?
It's chilly in L.A. -- temperatures are expected to drop into the mid-30s Saturday night. The storm front rolling into Southern California on Friday, which left sprinkles at my house this morning, may intensify, delivering rain and hail and snow.
Snow as low as elevation 500 feet, our sibling blog L.A. Now reports. The Hollywood sign is at 1,600 feet. Which means that it's possible that the night before the Oscars, there might be snow on the Hollywood sign.
You absolutely couldn't have predicted this -- or maybe you could have, with "The Old Farmer's Almanac 2011." Established in 1792 by Robert N. Thomas, the almanac has astronomical charts, a farmer's calendar and weather predictions.
Do they work? Can they rival the daily satellite weather reports we can find on television and the Internet? Last year, the almanac was pretty accurate, predicting below-normal winter temperatures across most of the nation -- and 11 of its 16 regions came through. The book includes this self-evaluation:
Overall, our monthly regional forecasts were 81 percent accurate in predicting the direction of change in precipitation from the previous winter.... Overall, we were within 1.9 degrees F, on average, in our temperature forecasts, using a city selected from each region.
That's not bad. But did it predict snow for Los Angeles in February 2011? Not exactly. "Winter temperatures will be near normal, on average, with above-normal rainfall," the almanac predicts for the Pacific Southwest region, which extends from San Francisco to San Diego. "The coldest periods will be in mid-January and early February."
It's so close -- off by just a few weeks. Which shouldn't matter, except to the people using the almanac as a planting guide who followed it to the letter and counted on the coldest part of the winter being behind us. If they planted their tender seedlings last weekend, they might be in trouble if it gets frosty over the next two nights.
But lackadaisical farmers can take heart -- they've timed things just right.
There is more in "The Old Farmer's Almanac" than just weather. It has a detailed calendar that includes such archaic days as Lammas Day (the beginning of the harvest, having to do with the Latin word for bread) and Cats Night (summer nights said to be when witches prowl as cats). It has charts of the sunrise and sunset times for each day of the year, and, with a nod to the current era, has customizable-by-Zip-Code versions online, available for purchase.
And there are other ancillary bits and pieces related to farming; the more than 200-year-old almanac describes its contents as "containing, besides the large number of astronomical calculations and the farmer's calendar for every month in the year, a variety of new, useful & entertaining matter."
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: L.A.'s palm trees and the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains in January 2011. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times