Mother Lode residents, ranchers and farmers who believe in almanac forecasts can expect the coming winter to be “cooler than normal, with rainfall above normal,” according to the 1792 Old Farmer’s Almanac, published in Dublin, New Hampshire.

But the 1818 Farmers’ Almanac, published in Lewiston, Maine, says winter “will not be as wet as last year.”

The publications issued contradictory forecasts a year ago, too, with the 1792 Old Farmer’s Almanac calling for “below-normal mountain snows” and the 1818 Farmers’ Almanac predicting a “balmy & wet” winter.

Trying to forecast whether the Sierra Nevada will have a wet or dry winter is serious business for California’s $54 billion agriculture industry, including 76,400 farms and ranches, the state Department of Water Resources, hundreds of water agencies up and down the state, and 39.5 million residents statewide.

Major watersheds in the Central Sierra, including the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers, received 179 percent of average precipitation this past winter and spring. According to a five-station index featuring Calaveras Big Trees, Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite Valley, the region received 71.5 inches, about 6 inches less than the wettest winter on record, 1982-83.

Last winter broke the back of a five-year drought. As of this week, 8.24 percent of California was described as being in a state of drought, from moderate to severe, and drought-impacted parts of the state were all in Southern California. A year ago, 83.59 percent of California was in drought, from moderate to exceptional, and most of the Mother Lode was in severe to extreme drought.

Secret formulas

Both the 1792 Old Farmer’s Almanac and the 1818 Farmers’ Almanac claim to use centuries-old secret formulas to predict weather.

At the 1792 Old Farmer’s Almanac, editors say they derive their weather forecasts “from a secret formula that was devised by the founder of this Almanac, Robert B. Thomas, in 1792.”

Thomas believed weather was influenced by sunspots, which are magnetic storms on the surface of the sun, editors say in this year’s 2018 edition.

“Over the years, we have refined and enhanced this formula with state-of-the-art technology and modern scientific calculations,” 1792 Old Farmer’s Almanac editors say. “Our results are almost always very close to our traditional claim of 80 percent.”

Editors of the 1818 Farmers’ Almanac say that for 200 years, their formula for predicting long-range weather forecasts has been tested, prodded, and poked. Based on “a specific and reliable set of rules” developed in 1818 by David Young, the Farmers’ Almanac’s first editor, the formula has been altered slightly and now includes both mathematical and astronomical factors.

They claim their predictions over time have been 80 to 85 percent accurate.

‘Forecasting with bear grease’

The 1792 Old Farmer’s Almanac is billed as “The Original Farmer’s Almanac: Useful, With a Pleasant Degree of Humor” and that humor extends to weather forecasting in some cases.

In the 2018 edition there’s a page dedicated to a story about “bear grease weather predicting” courtesy of M.S., a resident of Alamogordo, New Mexico.

“Bear grease weather predicting is legendary in the Southwest,” the story says. “The technique is believed to have originated with the Mescalero Apaches centuries ago, and it was popularized by Gordon ‘Bear Fat’ Wimsatt of Wimsatt, New Mexico, in the 1980s.

“Wimsatt claimed that he had practiced this ‘lost art’ for more than 50 years, with 90 percent accuracy,” the story says. “Folks in the Southwest still talk about the procedure; one of them told us about it.

“Here’s how it (supposedly) works: Melt down about a pound of bear fat and pour the grease into a clean jar.

“Watch for changes in the grease:

“A few specks on the surface means a light breeze; many specks means strong winds.

“If grease builds up, or mounds, in the center or on the side of the jar, expect a storm.

“No change in the grease means no change in the weather.

“No advice is given about acquiring the grease.”

Newsstand prices for the 1792 Old Farmer’s Almanac and the 1818 Farmers’ Almanac are expected to range from $6.99 to $7.95. They’ll be in Mother Lode supermarkets and other retailers later this month.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.

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