Good news, winter haters: After record snowfall in the mid-Atlantic and unusually cold weather down South, the Farmers' Almanac is predicting a "kinder and gentler" winter.
After eyeing the skies, tidal action and sunspots, the folks at the 194-year-old publication say in their 2011 edition going on sale Monday that it'll be cold but nothing like last winter, when 49 states saw snow and it got so cold in Florida that iguanas fell out of trees.
"Overall, it looks like it's going to be a kinder and gentler winter, especially in the areas that had a rough winter last year," said managing editor Sandi Duncan.
But don't put away your hat and gloves just yet.
It'll still be colder than normal for much of the country, the almanac says, and New England will get a "cold slap in the face" after missing last winter's misery. Finally, residents of the upper Midwest and Great Lakes are expected to get the piles of snow that'll be lacking elsewhere.
The Farmers' Almanac, which claims 80 to 85 percent accuracy and says it correctly forecast heavy snow in Middle Atlantic states last winter, bases its predictions on a secret mathematical formula using the position of the planets, tidal action of the moon and sunspots.
Ed O'Lenic from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center said the scientific community doesn't accept tides, planetary alignment and sunspots as effective predictors of temperature or precipitation, but he stopped short of calling the almanac's meteorological methods a bunch of hooey.
"In science you have to have an open mind. Someday, someone could conceivably find some scintilla of evidence that it's useful," O'Lenic, chief of the operations branch, said of the almanac's methodology. "For the time being, we have to stick with what produces results for us."
At odds with the almanac
For the record, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center anticipates a warmer-than-normal winter for the mid-Atlantic and Southeast and colder-than-normal weather in the Northwest. That puts it at odds with the almanac, which calls for mild temperatures in the Northwest and cold in the Southeast.
The Maine-based Farmers' Almanac is not to be confused with the New Hampshire-based Old Farmer's Almanac. Both issue annual forecasts, with The Old Farmer's Almanac scheduled for release Sept. 7.
The 2011 retail edition of the Farmers' Almanac has the usual mix of gardening tips, jokes, trivia, recipes and inspirational messages.
This year, there's a focus on friendship.
Editor Peter Geiger is urging readers to think about friendship and who'll be there for them in a pinch. He's asking them to share their stories.
"With technology it's easy to have 3,000 friends on Facebook but have no real friends from which you can meet and talk and who are there for you," he said.
The old-school almanac is big on nostalgia but isn't shy about using technology. Its website gets more than 4 million visitors a year, and an iPhone app is in the works.
And, of course, readers can become a fan on Facebook.