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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Category — Blog

Venus is Back!

Venus is Back!

The planet Venus has returned to the early morning sky and has established itself as a dazzling morning lantern, emerging into view from beyond the east-southeast horizon before 5:00 a.m. local standard time. Just three weeks ago, on January 11, was the day of its inferior conjunction — when it passed between the Sun and Earth and made its transition from an evening to a morning object.

A week later it had moved far enough away from the Sun’s vicinity so that it was rising more than an hour before sunrise. A member of New York’s Amateur Observers’ Society was one of the first to catch sight of it early on Sunday morning, January 19:

“I got up to answer the call of nature a little after 6 a.m. and looked out my southeast window to the approaching dawn. In the twilight, I spotted a bright object just a few degrees above the horizon. My guess was that it was Venus appearing on its eastward rise, which it turned out to be.”

And now Venus is much easier to sight, rising more than two hours before the Sun.

Interestingly, for about the past week or so, I’ve been getting inquiries from those who arise early in the morning, en route to work and school, asking what is that “dazzling white star,” which now precedes the rising Sun? Perhaps, they were standing at a bus stop or a train platform when their attention was drawn to Venus. Often, they will follow up with the comment, “Just a week ago, it wasn’t there!” I suspect, I’ll be getting an increasing number of such inquiries in the coming days ahead.

On Saturday, February 15, Venus comes up in total darkness, about an hour before the first glimmer of dawn, while shining at its greatest brilliancy (magnitude —4.9). To give you an idea of just how radiant Venus will be at that time, it will appear to gleam 25 times brighter than Sirius, the brightest of all stars. In fact, it’s so bright even now, that you might try sighting it on very clear days with the naked eye after sunrise. If you can keep track of where it is through sunup, you should still be able to see it as a tiny white “speck” against the blue daytime sky.

As a bonus, a lovely crescent Moon slides to the lower left of Venus on Wednesday morning, February 26. During March and April, Venus will appear to slowly lower a bit in altitude in the predawn sky, but then from late April through about the middle of August, it will appear to rise at approximately the same time as the beginning of morning twilight, roughly two hours before sunrise.

So it pretty much will remain a fixture in our morning sky from now, right on through at least the middle of the summer.

Now is also a fine time to examine the crescent of Venus in a telescope or even a pair of binoculars. A steady mounting for the binoculars — even just bracing them against the side of a tree — can make all the difference in the world.

There are, in fact, some individuals with such acute vision who claim that they can actually see the crescent of Venus without any optical aid. If you’d like to test your own perception of vision on Venus, the best time to try it would be during bright twilight, say 15 to 30 minutes before sunrise. At that time, Venus will appear with far less glare against the background sky, giving your eyes a better opportunity to perceive its shape.

Whenever Venus appears as a thin crescent, I often like to relate a very amusing story related by George Lovi (1939-1993), who was a well-known astronomy lecturer and author. One night, while running a public viewing night at the Brooklyn College Observatory in New York, the telescope was pointed right at Venus, then displaying its delicate crescent shape. Yet one student gazing through the telescope eyepiece stubbornly insisted he was really looking at the Moon.

When Mr. Lovi commented that the Moon wasn’t even in the sky, the student replied, “So what? Doesn’t a telescope show you things you can’t see without it?”

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You’re Welcome, NFL!

You’re Welcome, NFL!

The big game is over… but winter is not!

If you live in the greater New York/New Jersey area, or if you tuned into the Super Bowl last night, you know that fans, the teams and the NFL got lucky — the weather held out and the game was played without any interruptions from Mother Nature. However, as I predicted in the 2014 Farmers’ Almanac, the snow did come, only about 4-5 hours after the end of the big game! The greater New York area is now blanketed in several inches of snow.

While all eyes and focus were on the Almanac’s predictions for February 2nd, I like to remind people that the predictions are actually for a three-day intervals. The snow, which came one calendar day (but really, just a few hours) after the Super Bowl, was accurately predicted in the 2014 Farmers’ Almanac.

On page 36 of the Farmers’ Almanac, I stated that, “even if we are off by a day or two with the timing of copious snow, wind, rain, we’d like to stress that this particular part of the winter season will be particularly volatile and especially turbulent.”

Have you seen the forecast for this week?
We also forecast a major winter storm would hit a big portion of the country, including the New York/New Jersey area this week. Winter is not over, but fortunately for everyone attending yesterday’s game, the wintry weather held off… at least for a few hours.

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Why is your state named what it is?

Why is your state named what it is?

Most names of the states are due to Native Americans and their languages. Luckily for us, Native Americans used some wonderful adjectives when naming and describing people, places, and things.

Some states were named after kings or towns in Europe, and others were influenced by Spanish or French words. Here are some examples:
Alabama is named after the Native American word which means “Here we rest.”

Arizona is the result of the Native American word arizonac, meaning “small springs” or “few springs.”

Arkansas is sort of a mixture of the Native American kansas, which means “smoky water,” and the French prefix arc, meaning “bow” or “bend.”

California comes from the Spanish words caliente fornalla, or “hot furnace.”

Delaware was named after Lord De la Warr.

Florida originated from the Spanish Pascua de Flores, which means “Feast of Flowers.”

Georgia was named after King George II of England.

Idaho is Native American, and means “Gem of the Mountains.”

Illinois is another mixture of Native American and French, the Native American word illini and the French suffix ois meaning “tribe of men.”

Kentucky is also Native American, and means “at the head of the river,” or “the dark and bloody ground.”

Louisiana is named after Louis XIV of France.

Maine was named after the former province of the same name in France, and Maryland after Queen Henrietta Maria of England, consort of Charles I.

New Hampshire is for the former Hampshire County in England.

New Jersey was named after the Island of Jersey.

The states New York and both North and South Carolina were also named after monarchs abroad.

Ohio and Oklahoma are both Native American, too; Ohio meaning “beautiful river,” and Oklahoma, “home of the red men.”

Oregon is from the Spanish word oregano, which stands for the wild marjoram, a plant abundant on its coast.

Pennsylvania traces back to the Latin, meaning “Penn’s woody land.”

Vermont is from the French for “green mountains.”

Virginia is called after Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen of England.

Washington gets its name from a good, straight American source–George Washington.

West Virginia is so called because it was formerly the western part of Virginia.

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Is the Weather Drunk?

Is the Weather Drunk?

This winter has been a humdinger. The month of January has brought subzero temperatures to much of North America, while to the north, the waters of the usually frosty arctic circle are warmer than normal for this time of year.

Could the problem be, as the amusing image above, created by science blogger Greg Laden, suggests, that the arctic is actually confused about where it belongs? While Laden was clearly being tongue-in-cheek, in a way, the answer to that question is yes.

Both Laden’s blog and a more recent update at Mother Jones Magazine explain that the “polar vortex” that’s placed much of the United States and Canada into a deep freeze is actually a result of a “drunkenly staggering” jet stream.

The jet stream is a strong current of fast flowing air that cuts across the Northern Hemisphere. It has a powerful affect on the climate in North America. As Mother Jones explains:

Its motion–sometimes in a relatively straight path, sometimes in a more loopy one–is driven by a difference in temperatures between the equator and the north pole. Southern temperatures are of course warmer, and because warm air takes up more space than cold air, this leads to taller columns of air in the atmosphere.

As the Arctic rapidly heats up, however, there’s less of a temperature difference between the equator and the poles, and the downhill slope in the atmosphere is accordingly less steep. This creates a weaker jet stream, a jet stream that meanders more or, if you prefer the new analogy, staggers around drunkenly.

This weak, meandering jet stream can’t contain the strong weather systems from farther north that it normally holds back from sweeping down on us. So, in a perverse way, the reason we’re all freezing right now is because the Earth is getting warmer.

One thing is for sure, we predicted these frigid temperatures in the 2014 Farmers’ Almanac, which is something we’re happy to drink to.

Stay warm!

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10 Quotes to Ponder on MLK Day

10 Quotes to Ponder on MLK Day

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here are 10 of his quotes we wanted to share:

1. Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

2. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

3. If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

4. That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.

5. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

6. The time is always right to do what is right.

7. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

8. Forgiveness is not an occasional act: it is an attitude.

9. Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

10. Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.

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The Worst of Winter Over? Not So Fast!

The Worst of Winter Over? Not So Fast!

This winter has certainly been one of extremes. A little over a week ago, much of the country was in the grip of a “polar vortex” a weather term many hadn’t heard before that brought blisteringly cold temperatures and sheets of ice falling from the sky.

Now, as warm temperatures have settled in for several days now, some are wondering if winter has packed it up and gone home. But as our editor told a local newspaper last week, the idea that winter only has so much punishment to deal out is a myth.

An early, and brutal, start to winter doesn’t guarantee an early spring, and all the signs point to this winter hanging around for a while longer. The warm weather most areas are experiencing now is just a classic phenomenon known as the “January Thaw,” albeit appearing about a week earlier than normal.

According to Accuweather, the polar vortex is still around, and expected to intensify in the coming weeks:

The polar vortex will get stronger and move farther south later in January, causing cold to intensify in the Midwest and East and drought to build in California and the West.

As the pattern responsible for rounds of nuisance snow and waves of cold air continues into next week, indications are that bitterly cold air will return later in the month courtesy of the polar vortex.

There is the chance the cold may rival that of early January in some areas.

Impact from the new surge of very cold air may include the already familiar risks from below-zero temperatures including life-threatening conditions and frostbite. The cold may be intense enough to cause school closings, frozen pipes and water main breaks. Heating systems may struggle to keep up, people will spend more money keeping their homes and businesses warm and ice will again build up on area rivers. Where the cold is accompanied by snow, travel delays are likely.

Get ready!

Want to know what we’re predicting for the rest of the season? Check our long range forecast!

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Word of the Year

Word of the Year

On New Year’s Day as I was taking down my Christmas tree that was losing needles faster than the clock was ticking, I heard someone talking about picking a word to focus on for the New Year rather than a resolution or two.

I thought it sounded like a great idea and all day long I started thinking about what my word would be. I also decided that this idea might be good for my children, who are in high school (and sometimes don’t buy into my crazy ideas as easy as they did when they were 5). They accepted my challenge and chose a word. I told them I’d ask no questions about why they picked their word nor would I pass any judgment.

Once we chose our words we then painted them on rocks. We will keep these painted rocks on a windowsill in my dining room. Hopefully throughout the year, we will be reminded of our words and reminded of what we’d like to focus on for 2014. Our words are “Believe, Grow, and Adventure.”

If you were going to pick one word what would it be? Or did you go the route of a resolution? Whatever you did or didn’t do, I hope that this New Year so far is turning out to be a good one for you.

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Black Ice Ahead!

Black Ice Ahead!

Virtually every part of the US has felt the wrath of Father Winter, and  it isn’t over yet — not by a long shot. This morning, I saw a clip of a car going off a bridge (driver survived) which reminds me of one of the most dangerous aftermaths of winter — black ice. It isn’t really black but it can show up anytime or anywhere temps are below freezing for an extended period.

Black ice is actually clear. It’s a  thin strip of ice or sleet on roads. It is transparent so you only see black tar and can be unaware of the danger. In Maine. we see it in March and April but after this past week of subzero temps, precipitation and lots of cars on the road, it can be anywhere roads are not well treated. Even when treated, an overnight mist or fog combined with low temperatures can be a recipe for disaster.

Be especially careful traveling on bridges as the cold temperatures under the bridge combines with the cold temperature above and you can completely lose control of your car.
What to do:

Ø  Approach bridges with care. Try breaking to be sure the road is treated.
Ø  Keep your distance from other cars.
Ø  Don’t jam on the brakes — you’ll go spinning.
Ø  Take your foot off the accelerator.
Ø  Turn the wheel in the direction of the skid. It seems wrong but it helps gain control.
Ø  Stay calm (if you can).

Oh yea — wear your seatbelt. It comes in handy for such an emergency. Drive safely — we have an exciting year ahead of us.

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Freezing one day, warm the next? What’s up?

Freezing one day, warm the next? What’s up?

Today it’s supposed to reach 47 degrees at Farmers’ Almanac’s headquarters in Lewiston, Maine. Tomorrow the high expected is 17 with a wind chill of -3. Yes Virginia, winter is back.

But what’s with these extreme temperature extremes? Are they normal?

It has certainly been a while since we have seen this type of weather pattern. A polar vortex (an upper-level storm system) currently predominates over north-central Canada and is funneling very cold air down from the polar regions and directing it toward the central and eastern sections of Canada and the US. Such wild swings of thermometer are a bit unusual, though not particularly rare.  We had a few of these episodes between 1995 and 2005.

Looking back a bit more, you may remember: Groundhog Day 1976 and January 28, 1977.  In the first case, frigid Arctic air met up with a storm moving along the Eastern Seaboard during the early morning hours.  When the cold air mixed into the warm/moist circulation of the storm, it was like pumping it with steroids; the storm literally exploded (what meteorologists refer to as “bombogenisis”). In the process it pulled very cold air down from northern Canada.  New Yorkers who were up at the crack of dawn that morning saw rain and 45-degrees.  Three hours later, it was snowing heavily and the temperature had dropped to 15!  After another three hours, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and yet despite dazzling sunshine, the temperature was 5, and with winds gusting to 40 m.p.h., it felt more like 20 below zero.

The 1977 case was somewhat similar to what we are about to experience: A sharp cold front swept across the Northeast and dropped temperatures precipitously in just a few hours.  In Buffalo, NY, and parts of the Ohio Valley, the lake-effect snows created severe blizzard conditions, in some parts of Buffalo, the snow depths that resulted were on the order of 3 to 5 feet!

For all those who had said going into this winter season that we don’t seem to see any “Old Fashioned Winters” anymore, we would like to remind you that we’re in the midst of one both in the US and Canada (which we did predict, by the way)!

So while these swings are odd, they do happen. But on a positive note, a protracted spell of milder weather will be settling in for a good portion of the country, (hopefully warming up for parts of Canada too) beginning later this week and will continue into much of next week; call it an early January thaw.

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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.