More than a quarter of a century ago, I had a conversation with a former weather forecaster. He was a professionally-trained meteorologist who used to work for the Federal Aviation Administration before making a major mid-life career change and becoming a minister. I used to joke with him that the ministry was a lot like weather forecasting - you have to make a lot of guesses and you never really know what is coming next. He once told me a story about an agency policy that was weighted toward the computers when it came to analyzing data. The FAA at that time had new computers that were used to analyze wind speed and direction, upper atmosphere moisture, cloud cover and other factors. It would make preliminary predictions that were processed by human meteorologists. The rule at the FAA at the time was that the humans had the power to override the computers. However, if they chose to override the computer and the computer proved to be more accurate than the human predictions, the forecaster was reprimanded. If the computer was wrong and the human agreed with it there were no negative repercussions for the human. Therefore there was no incentive to take a risk when the computer appeared to be wrong.

What I learned from this friend is that the science and art of predicting the future is at best a very challenging exercise. Making a five-day forecast is not a simple exercise at all. Even with all of the new technologies that have emerged in recent years, forecasters still are most accurate when predicting events very close. They can often be pretty good about predicting what will happen tomorrow, but when it comes to predicting a week out, the accuracy goes down quite a bit.

Predicting a month or more into the future is still more guesswork than hard science.

Knowing that, of course, doesn’t keep us from looking at the Farmer’s Almanac, which predicts weather an entire season in advance. I try to do so with a grain of skepticism, but over the years I have discovered that the combination of using a bit of vague language and general terms that is part of the writing of the Almanac provides one kind of a window on the future. If you go with the Almanac, the prediction is that this winter is going to be long and cold in our part of the country. Frigid and Snowy are the terms that the 2020 edition of the Farmer’s Almanac uses to describe the upper midwest. The map in the almanac shows the entire midsection of the country, about a third of the landmass of the country, to be facing colder than normal temperatures this winter. The coldest weather is predicted to come at the end of January and to linger well into a chilly spring. I guess that is their way of saying that we can get snow into May again next year like we did this year.

It is possible that I’m a bit more focused on the weather this winter than usual. When we lived in North Dakota, I didn’t pay much attention to the weather. I knew that winter would bring some snow and some days of below zero temperatures. I also knew that we had good winter clothing, a reliable car, and a home with a good furnace. You develop a kind of attitude that simply accepts the weather and learns to live with what comes. Then we moved to Boise, Idaho, which doesn’t have anywhere near as much variation in the weather. Most days in Boise are sunny and there isn’t much rain or snow. The mountains seem to get all of the precipitation. I paid attention to the weather forecasts because I enjoyed skiing and when we got good snow in the mountains, the winter recreation was incredible. Then we moved back to the Dakotas, this time to the hills where it is a bit warmer and the weather a bit less severe than out on the open plains.

Of course everywhere we have lived, the weather has been a topic of conversation. Go to anyplace that has a table of senior men sitting around drinking coffee and you can overhear plenty of conversation about the weather. A quick read through the Farmer’s Almanac provides a sufficient background for diving right in and joining those conversations. Most of the participants have gotten their weather news from the television, which is notorious for not making long term predictions.

The bottom line is that we can’t predict the future. We often think we would like to know what is coming. We sometimes look for obscure signs that might tell us what to expect. But life itself will always come up with surprises. The unexpected occurs. A previously-undetected factor will prove to be important.

There are still people who look to the Bible for predictions about the future. The Bible, however, isn’t about predictions of the future. It has many words of prophets who called the people back to faithfulness to the covenant with God. It ends with a vision that is filled with symbolic language and challenges attempts at interpretation. There are plenty of folks who look to that vision as if it were a prediction. In order to do so you have to assume a certain level of specialized language and words that have unusual meanings. Reading the Revelation of John without first studying the context and history of the book might give the illusion of understanding, but the more one really studies the book, the more mysteries remain.

So I’m preparing for another winter of unpredictable events. We’ll get some snow, but I don’t know how much. It will be cold some days, but I don’t know how many. There will be some nice sunny days, but I don’t know when.

There is a lot of joy in allowing oneself to be surprised by that comes. I’m thinking that I don’t need an inside track on the future. I’m willing to take it as it comes.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!