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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
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Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Buffalo

Neighbors Helping Neighbors in Buffalo

I have visited Buffalo, New York, on three occasions. I was taken by its people and how such a large city could seem so warm and friendly, even though the weather can be quite the opposite. While lake effect snows are the norm in this area, what occurred last week was one for the history books.

While the media has focussed on the amount of snow and now the possibility of flooding, what I wanted to focus on is a story of human compassion and kindness. Two friends of mine, Rob and Gail Radder, who live in Elma, New York — a town in Erie County, southeast of Buffalo, shared their personal experience with this crazy November storm with me last week.  They were traveling when the storm occurred and it took them several days to get into their home (see photo). But the point they made to me is just how incredible everyone has been. Neighbors helping neighbors with snow blowers, bucket loaders, generators, and more. This is a prime example of how many times the worst brings out the very best in people. It is the one thing that, despite whatever else is happening in the world, gives me hope.

To all our friends in Buffalo, congratulations on surviving a once in a lifetime event and for doing it with the grace and dignity that makes Buffalo a special community. Stay safe.

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Take Our Thanksgiving Poll

Take Our Thanksgiving Poll

With Thanksgiving nearly on our doorstep, we at the Farmers’ Almanac have decided to take a closer look at the date of Thanksgiving, and suggest that as a nation, we move the date of this celebrated holiday from the 4th Thursday in November to the second week in October; the main reasons being:

  1. The two major family holidays are within 4 weeks of each other on the calendar. Why not spread out the visits and holidays?
  2. Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest – shouldn’t “the day” be closer to the harvest?
  3. Usually, weather for folks coming from or to northern states makes travel hazardous and time consuming. That is not an issue mid October. Since this is the most traveled holiday, why not have it land on a date that might insure safe travel and fewer hours getting there?

Read more of the arguments for moving the date in the full Press Release going out to the news media here.

In 1991, when we posed the question to our readers, asking, “Should We Tinker With Thanksgiving?” it was divided. Many of you said to leave the date where it is because it could get confusing, while others said the tradition is not with the date but with the event. Here’s a link to the original story we ran in 1991. So now, in 2014, we’re revisiting the question again and we want to know what you think. Take our poll below:

Farmers’ Almanac Official Poll Question:

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How Much Snow Is Too Much?

How Much Snow Is Too Much?

Yesterday, the residents in parts of western New York got clobbered with a ferocious snowstorm.  The magnitude of it was quite a surprise to many who, while most likely used to large amounts of snowfall in that region, probably weren’t prepared for the 5 feet that fell on Tuesday.

That wasn’t a typo. Five FEET of snow fell in a 24-hour period. And it’s still snowing.

Authorities are saying that by Thursday, another 2 feet is expected to blanket the eastern Lake Erie and Lake Ontario regions. The storm is blamed for at least 7 deaths, and some people are still stranded on major roadways.  There are travel bans, road closures, cancellations and snow emergencies — all in effect. It’s looking like this storm could turn out to be one of the history books — the week’s totals will undoubtedly rival the all-time snowfall record for Buffalo, which was 81.6 inches over the course of five days in 2001. The people of this region will no doubt be immersed in “shovelry” for a long time.

That part of the US was hit with a wallop of what’s known as “lake effect snow.” So what exactly lake effect snow?

Lake effect snow occurs when cold, arctic air moves over a body of warmer water, in this case, the Great Lakes, picking up moisture while crossing the lake, then releasing it as snow when the air cools over land. The lakes produce lake effect snow and continuous cloudy skies throughout the winter months, as long as air temperatures are colder than the lake water temperatures.

In 2000, the Farmers’ Almanac published North America’s 100 Most Memorable Weather Events of the past one hundred years. There are all kinds of storms on that list from tornadoes to hurricanes to snow storms. A portion of that list can be found here. We want to know: do you think this recent storm should be added to the list? How much snow is too much?

Photo: The New York State Thruway, south of Buffalo. Photo courtesy of the New York State Police.

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Cost of Fuel

Cost of Fuel

When oil prices climbed, the media covered each and every penny increase. Higher prices were exacerbated by the endless frigid temperatures last winter. Over the summer and into this fall, fuel costs have dropped like a lead balloon (is there such a thing). I live in Maine and maybe prices vary around the country but here is what I see:

Heating Oil – May 2014 – $3.79/gal November 2014 – $2.73/gal
Gasoline – May 2014 – $3.49/gal November 2014 – $2.94/gal
Propane Gas – May 2014 – $4.60/gal November 2014 – $3.60/gal

I don’t remember a time when fuel costs have dropped so dramatically. Question – is this going to be good for the economy?  Clearly, you will spend less of fuel, so what will you do with the money?? On the doorstep of the Christmas shopping season, is this good thing? Or will we be waiting for the shoe to drop and the costs to go back up?  Enjoy it while it lasts and don’t forget to use these natural resources wisely and efficiently.

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A Veterans Day Tribute to Ray Geiger

Ray-Geiger-Military-Photo

Captain Raymond A. Geiger, 1941

With Tuesday, November 11th being Veterans Day, I am reminded that there as so many amazing heroic veterans to recognize this time of the year.

My dad, Ray Geiger, was the 6th editor of the Farmers’ Almanac. He started his editorship with the 1935 edition. With a circulation  of 86,000 copies at the time, he wasn’t sure what he had but he loved the purpose of the publication. He’d admit that his first editions were not his best.

What I find to be amazing is that when he was drafted into World War II in 1941,  serving his entire stint in the South Pacific,  he never came home until the war ended, not even for his dad’s funeral.

He served in General MacArthur’s base and was wounded during one battle. Despite the distance, he also somehow managed to compile material for each edition of the Almanac of the early 40s, and get it printed. His sister, Loretta, gets credit for making it happen on the US side, but it was typical of Ray Geiger to be the editor-in-chief and let no war stop his love for the Almanac and its readers.

This may not be a great battle story but Ray served his country well and kept a 140-year-old publication very much alive.

Thanks to all our Veterans who made sacrifices and the world a better place to live.

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The Polar Vortex: Making A Comeback?

The Polar Vortex: Making A Comeback?

Remember last winter when the mainstream media latched on to the term “polar vortex?”  Prior to last winter this term was quite unknown to the average man-on-street, although if you checked the official Glossary of Meteorology, where it had been buried for decades, you’d certainly find it.

In fact, there are several other monikers for it: polar cyclone, polar low, and circumpolar whirl.

Generally speaking, the polar vortex refers to the circulation of air centered over the polar regions.  And there usually is not just one, but two vortices; one centered over northeast Siberia and the other over Baffin Island in northern Canada. The two vortex centers sort of rotate around each other during the winter season, but sometimes, one or both centers slide farther to the south than normal and in the process send a surge of unseasonably cold air into the United States.

This has happened many times before, of course, in winters of the near and distant past.

What made last year different from all those other winters is that last year the media became enamored with the term “polar vortex,” making it sound as if this was a unique phenomenon, when in reality, we’ve experienced the effects of the vortex on many other occasions in many other frigidly cold winters.

And just to jog your memory, in those years past, the media latched on to other ways to categorize those spells of extreme cold.  Remember the term “Siberian Express,” which we heard so much of during the late 1970s and ’80s?  In this case, we were told that a river of bitter cold air had set up from Siberia and extended south and east, with waves of frigidity racing across the United States – a sort of direct pipeline to the brutal cold of the tundra of Siberia.  But what set up this “configuration of cold?”

You guessed it. It was the same polar vortex, which had drifted a bit off course to the south and directed polar-like conditions into our part of the world.  But the media wouldn’t discover the vortex for another 20 or 30 years.

This week we’re going to see several impulses in vortex-like fashion move across the northern tier of the United states, bringing surges of unseasonably cold weather, particularly later in the week when parts of the Northern Plains will drop to as much as 10 or 15 below zero in the predawn hours of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. It wont be as frigid in places farther to the south and east, but temps will still run below seasonal normals.

But before all that happens, however, heavy snows will likely fall over Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin on Monday and Tuesday.  Interestingly, in the East, one last surge of unseasonably mild weather is likely to hang on through midweek, before the bottom falls out of the thermometer later this week.

So, the reality is, it’s November and the seasons are in their annual transitional phase of autumn to winter.  Here at the Farmers’ Almanac we’re calling for lots of cold and for some, lots of snow.  So hold on to your polar vortex, or get ready to catch the next Siberian Express . . . whatever term you prefer. But like it or not, here comes Ol’ Man Winter!

To find out more of what’s in store this winter, check out our 2015 winter forecast here! 

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Homemade For The Holidays?!

Homemade For The Holidays?!

As the holiday season quickly approaches, I wonder why this time of year makes me want to try all of those homemade crafts, decorations, gifts, and foods that seem to make the holidays that much more festive, creative and warm. I mean, who wouldn’t want try making those adorable turkey place settings for Thanksgiving dinner, or how about that delicious stuffing that has 3 different sausages and 5 different nuts in it? Then I remember the gingerbread ornament incident.

Many years ago my friend and I were at a holiday craft fair when we saw these very cute gingerbread ornaments. They were in many shapes, looked just like gingerbread cookies with some type of sealant around them to protect them. We looked at each other and thought, “we can make that.” So we set up a date, got the ingredients, and got ready to become mini “Martha Stewarts” for the afternoon. (Secretly I thought, well this has got to work out, after all, my friend is a graphic artist!)

We felt so ready to tackle what seemed to be an easy craft that would result in such a cute, homemade gift. Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way. First, the ornaments didn’t cook right, then the shellac we were using to make them permanent was messy and wouldn’t go on right, turning the whole project into one giant mess. Sure, we got a few to look like they were made by 5 year olds, (no offense to 5 year olds), but the rest of them found their way into the garbage.

This project fiasco took place many years ago, but my friend and I still joke about it when we’re out and about and see something cute by saying, “Oh, we can make that!” Fortunately, we know better now and are very careful as to what we attempt and what we buy. The holidays still appeal to me as a time to try the homemade route. I will admit that I’m more the baker than the crafter so I try to experiment with holiday recipes. In fact, this year I was thinking of taking on the task of making those Polish cookies that my Grandmother used to make, we called them twisters, but their real names are khruchiki. But first, I’m going to make a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin, not that canned stuff, and maybe I’ll even try making the crust, something I usually buy from the store.

How about you? Are you a “I can make that” type of person? And are you successful? Share your holiday expertise in the comments below!

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November is the month of The Bull

November is the month of The Bull

Due east, about halfway up in the sky during the mid-evening hours, two prominent clusters are in the constellation Taurus.  The first, the Hyades, composes the famous V-shape of the bull’s face.  A cluster of this type is called an open cluster, because it has no obvious organization or symmetry.  The stars move together through space like a family on a hike, seemingly both going across the sky and going away. The paths of the stars converge on a “vanishing point” far to the east. The resulting geometry allows us to determine the cluster’s distance with some accuracy: 151 light years. Its age is about 625 million years.  Interestingly, the bright orange-red, 1st-magnitude star, Aldebaran, which marks the bull’s angry right eye is merely an “innocent bystander” and has no connection whatsoever with the Hyades. By sheer coincidence it just happens to line up with the cluster to complete the V-shaped face and is actually less than half as far away at 67 light years.

On Saturday evening, Nov. 8th, look low toward the east-northeast horizon around 7 p.m. and you’ll see the Moon, two days past full (the so-called “Beaver” Moon of November), slowly ascending the sky.  Look to the upper left of the Moon and you’ll hit the bull’s-eye; a bright orange-red star.

That will be Aldebaran.

Higher in the sky, the Pleiades, popularly called the “Seven Sisters,” resemble a little dipper. There may be nearly a thousand stars in this group, but only about a score show in binoculars.  Their distance can be approximated only by using certain properties of the Hyades as a yardstick; it turns out to be 440 light years. In contrast to the Hyades, the Pleiades are more than six times younger, composed chiefly of hot, blue stars probably no older than 100 million years.  In addition, several stars in the cluster seem to be enveloped in clouds of dust, perhaps left over from the stuff of which they were formed.

“Locksley Hall” is a poem written by Alfred Tennyson in 1835 and published in his 1842 volume of Poems. In it, there is a line which alludes to the Pleiades:

“Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade, Glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid.”

Depending on sky conditions and light pollution, most people can see between four and six naked-eye Pleiads.  Some, with more acute vision can count many more.  One person, who has claimed to have seen as many as 19 Pleiads with his unaided eyes while observing under pristinely dark skies from rural Arizona, is Allen Seltzer who, three decades ago, served as the Education Director at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. Mr. Seltzer is blessed with unusually keen vision, which he once demonstrated to me by reading a page from The New York Times across a nearly 20-foot room!

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And the Halloween password is…

And the Halloween password is…

I can’t say my older brother always took care of me but Halloween was different. He was a perfectionist about everything including finding the best places to go trick-or treating. We’d fill shopping bags with the biggest and best candy but only because he knew where and where not to go. After all, Halloween offers only a  2 – 3 hour window of opportunity. Fast forward 50 years, and I am the beacon of my community for the biggest and best candy.

It started about 20 years ago on an October 31st morning.  I was being interviewed by Jon James on WMME (Moose Radio) in Augusta, Maine. We casually talked about going trick-or-treating and I mentioned that I give out either king or giant sized candy bars. Jon got so excited that we decided to have a “secret password.” If you didn’t know about the password, you’d get one bar. But, if you knew the special word, you got three giant candy bars of your choice (out of 20 types).

Kids would number between 300 – 500 per Halloween. That’s a lot of candy, but nothing compared to last year.  With time so grew the numbers. In 2012 we had 780 guests consume 2,000 bars. Then, last year, in pouring rain and with the help of Food Network Magazine, the Sun Journal and two television stations covering the “event,” 1,302 characters showed and  wiped out  all 3,500 bars. In fact, the candy distributor came through with 300 additional to save the day. After all, I have a reputation to uphold!

The excitement in my community is building. I get asked for the password, street address, and what am I giving out. I’ll be on WMME Radio Halloween morning from 6:30am – 9:00, so listen for the password. You can visit the 92 Moose web site here (and click the “listen live” link). It is open to kids of all ages.  Might even be worth a trip to Lewiston, Maine.

Halloween1

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.