updated 8/30/2004 10:33:42 AM ET 2004-08-30T14:33:42

Gas up the snowblower but don’t put away your umbrella: The Farmers’ Almanac is predicting a wild winter with heavy precipitation and dramatic temperature swings in the Northeast.

The northern Plains and Great Lakes will be snowy, the almanac says, while it will be milder in the southern half of the country. The Northeast will have unusually wet weather — either as rain or snow, according to the almanac.

“The big thing is it’s going to be a winter of extremes,” said managing editor Sandi Duncan, whose almanac hits newsstands Tuesday.

The weather formula used by the 188-year-old Farmers’ Almanac is a closely guarded secret. Prepared two years in advance, the forecasts are based on sunspots, the position of the planets and tidal action of the moon.

The National Weather Service questions the accuracy of forecasts made so far in advance, but the almanac says it is right 80 percent of the time. Some people use it for planning weddings and other outdoor events.

The almanac’s forecast last winter was largely on the mark. It predicted a cold winter and Mother Nature delivered a January deep freeze in the Northeast.

The almanac also forecast a wet and cool summer. And that seems to ring true in many places, including Maine.

This coming winter will get off to a cold start in the Pacific Northwest and northern Plains, the almanac says. Milder weather is in store for southern half of the nation, with near normal or balmy temperatures from California to the Deep South, according to the almanac.

Later in 2005, the almanac predicts a wet spring for most of the country and an active pattern for the Midwest’s “Tornado Alley” in April and June.

The Farmers’ Almanac — not to be confused with the Old Farmer’s Almanac in New Hampshire — also offers up recipes, brainteasers, jokes, gardening tips and trivia.

The editors expect to distribute 4.5 million copies of the three versions of the almanac: the 200-page retail version, a shorter promotional version and a Canadian version.

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