Smoke haze carried to the coast by an easterly wind this week reminded some residents of the slash-burning era that wound down decades ago. There was a smell of distant wildfire smoke Tuesday morning in southwest Pacific County and our air quality was rated as moderate. Raymond’s air quality index was an unhealthy 162 on Monday. North along the coast, and at several locations around Puget Sound, air was rated Tuesday as unhealthy or “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” The state’s leading weather expert foresees little chance for significantly wetter, cooler weather this month.

LONG BEACH — The Old Farmer’s Almanac has released its winter forecasts, saying Western Washington can expect more rain than normal, with warmer temperatures and less snow.

Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond says the almanac’s forecasts for our region are about as good as flipping a coin. Or worse.

“They claim that they’re 80% accurate. I have serious doubts about that,” Bond said. “I actually looked at their forecasts from some years ago — 13 winters, their monthly precipitation totals, and average temperatures relative to normal for Western Washington and Western Oregon. And I was not convinced that they had much skill in their forecasts. In fact, the temperature forecasts were no better than flipping a coin, and precipitation forecasts were actually a little bit worse. So take a bucket of salt.”

The almanac’s longstanding prediction formula is a secret but is said to rely on factors including a mathematical and astronomical formula, sunspot activity, the tides and planetary alignment. Analyses have pegged the almanac’s accuracy at about 52% — slightly accurate than Punxsutawney Phil, the famed groundhog said to predict six more weeks of winter or an early spring, depending on whether or not his handlers say he sees his shadow on Feb. 2.

Farmers place much greater stock in the long-term forecasts made by meteorologists, which they find have become far more accurate and sophisticated in recent years.

“You’re kind of working science against folklore and guesses,” an Idaho farmer told a reporter.

Bond summarized what meteorologists see coming this winter:

“Yeah, so the Farmer’s Almanac has is wetter than normal and warmer than normal. But what’s really going on in the climate system is that the tropical Pacific is cooling off and it’s likely we’ll have weak to moderate La Niña conditions. And that tends to stack the deck for us to have actually a cooler than normal winter, especially after the first of the calendar year. Sometimes we’re a little wet in kind of November and December in La Niña conditions, but not always. That’s kind of problematic. It could go that way. But right now, I would say that the evidence is not necessarily far warmer than normal winter overall. And that is consistent with forecasts from the Climate Prediction Center of NOAA.”

With most of the state under a Red Flag Warning the first half of this week due to dangerous wildfire conditions after a hot, dry east wind, Bond said weeks of caution are needed before our region’s autumn rains start in earnest.

“So the landscape has dried out,” he said. “We’ve dodged a lot of bullets, I would say. And the next few weeks look like some hot and dry weather for the Pacific Northwest. And so the fire season is by no means over. … So, you know, we got to be careful.”

— This story was reported by Angela King of KUOW and by the Associated Press

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