Sandi Duncan 

Farmers' Almanac editor says their forecast formula is top secret.

Sandi Duncan grew up on a farm but couldn't wait to get far away from that lifestyle as soon as possible.

"When I was a teenager, I didn't want anything to do with it," she said. "It was horrible work. So I went to school to get a job in communications."

She did just that, first landing a gig in advertising, then as a writer, editor and eventually managing editor of the Farmers' Almanac.

"The stars were all lined up right, particularly with my personal background and professional experience," she said.

This is Duncan's 25th year with the Maine-based Farmers' Almanac, and 20th as its managing editor.

It's interesting to note that this year's issue hits newsstands in late August, not the end of the year.

We have 16 months of weather forecasts, all the way through December 2019. People just like to plan way into the future—their vacations, their weddings and, of course, their planting.

What's your circulation?

We have our branded edition, plus special customized editions where companies can put their own logos on the cover, plus our Canadian version. We have over 2 million [issues] in circulation.

Once your issue is out, what do you do for the rest of the year?

We have 1.2 million followers on Facebook and a lot of content at farmersalmanac.com. We're also on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Believe it or not, we're starting to assign stories for our 2020 issue.

That's a rather wide editorial window. When do you begin putting together the weather forecast for the 2019/2020 issue?

I'm actually holding it in my hot little hands right now.

Wait a minute, what? I've heard of long-range forecasts, but that's difficult to take seriously.

We put it together almost two years in advance and it's still pretty accurate.

click to enlarge FARMER'S ALMANAC
  • Farmer's Almanac

So, let's dive into that. Do you have a team of weather forecasters?

We actually have someone that we call a "weather calculator." He's a real person but goes by the name of Caleb Weatherby. We keep his identity secret because the forecast is a proprietary secret.

But weather records, patterns and all of that data aren't secrets.

Look, there's a Pepsi Cola formula [and] a Kentucky Fried Chicken formula. People always want to know the details. Our formula was created in 1818 and it has been adjusted somewhat, but it's a formula known by only one person. I promise you, it's not something out of the clear blue sky or a Woolly Bear Caterpillar. It's a mathematical, astronomical formula that looks at sunspot activity, the position of the planets, tidal action of the moon and a variety of other factors.

Can I assume that you've been told by meteorologists that you simply can't forecast the weather that far into the future?

I like to warn people that I don't know of anyone who can predict the weather with 100 percent accuracy, even the people who are forecasting the weather 24 hours in advance. I think it's kind of nice in this world to be reminded that we can't control everything in nature.

That said, let's dive into your latest Farmers' Almanac forecast, particularly for our region of the country.

For this winter, average temperatures and then very wet conditions. It could be snow, it could be rain, it could be wet snow.

And for much of the rest of the nation, you're predicting teeth-chattering cold this winter.

Darn-right cold. You guys are pretty lucky, because west of the Rockies, it shouldn't be terribly cold. But we're predicting a rough winter for the eastern half of the country.

Apart from the weather forecasts, you have some intriguing articles in this year's Almanac, including reports on the planet's plastic problem, the history of beer and something that hasn't changed for many years: a lot of stories about cats and dogs.

We also have some interesting trivia, such as: "What did people use before there was toilet paper?"

I cringed a bit when I read that. Broken pieces of pottery? Corn on the cob? Please help me erase that image from my brain. Corn on the cob, really?

It's absorbent, I guess.

Let's change the topic as soon as possible. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that 2018 was a big anniversary.

It's our 200th year. David Young was a poet, astronomer and teacher in New Jersey in 1818. He wrote and edited the Farmers' Almanac until the Hart family and, ultimately, the Geiger family in the 1930s. And it was Peter Geiger who hired me, the first woman editor in Farmers' Almanac history.

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