James Lileks
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We all want to know what kind of winter we’re going to get, even though we know. It’ll be cold, then really cold, then not so cold, and this goes on forever. Then before you know it, it’s February.

Getting tired of winter in January is like getting bored with a baseball game at the bottom of the second inning. And your pants are glued to the seat.

But if you want to know what’s in store for the rest of this winter, you could consult one of those famous almanacs. But which one? There’s “The Farmer’s Almanac” and “The Old Farmer’s Almanac.” Two different publications. Which would you trust?

You think, “Well, the Old Farmer. He’s got … country wisdom!” Let’s imagine a chat with the wise old fella.

“By cracky, it’s going to be a winter as long and deep as the one we had in ’32. I can tell by the size of the caterpillars. Saw one yesterday, must have been two foot long. Huge, bushy tail, which usually means we get a sleet monsoon in March. Had one of those in aught-two, encased the entire town of Jiminey Falls in ice; took two thunderclaps and the whole town was just chunks ’n’ rubble. Of course, they rebuilt.

“I remember the mayor, what was his name? Orson Chunksenrubbel, that was it. Big man, used to go shooting out where the orphanage is now. ‘Course, the orphanage was there at the time, too. Kept the little whippersnappers on their toes, Orson did. Well, actually, now that I think of it, they wouldn’t be on their toes, they’d be ducking once Orson’s lead started flying around. Anyway, all that snow will be bad for the farmers, because it’ll melt and we’ll have floods. Possum!”

“Excuse me?”

“Possum. It was a possum I saw, not a caterpillar. You see a thick possum in December, it’s going to be a mild winter. Too bad, we need the snowpack to keep the fields from getting dry.”

OK, thank you, Old Farmer. Now let’s go to a Presumably Younger Farmer.

“I’m the same age as him. I just don’t look like a piece of driftwood in a flannel shirt. For one thing, I moisturize.

“Anyway, it’s always difficult to predict near-term weather, but we do know the relationship between sunspot activity and the Southern Hemisphere phenomenon we call El Niño. Given the almost unprecedented lack of solar activity, we expect the interplay between El Niño and the jet set — or is it the jet stream, never could tell those two apart — to give us a slightly cooler, drier winter.

“But if you divide the expected average temperature by the hourly croaks of a frog made last July, it looks as if it might be warmer. But tree-ring thickness records going back to 1947 suggest that wetland loss may have diminished our ability to get accurate frog-croak records. Likewise, it’s possible that fewer frogs croaking means fewer sunspots.”

“I see, Mr. Presumably Younger Farmer. Would it help if people croaked like frogs to restart the sun?”

“Well, I’d say it couldn’t hurt, but it’s probably a little late.”

This is where the Old Farmer jumped in: “When I said possum, I meant squirrel. Get ’em mixed up on account of they both got a ‘u’ in their name ...

“Say, look out the window. It’s coming down hard.”

Younger Farmer: “A blizzard, right up out of nowhere.”

Old and Younger Farmer together: “Didn’t see that one coming.”