The one human who knows the secret formula for the Farmer's Almanac

The Farmers' Almanac has been predicting the weather since 1818. Before the rise of TV weather forecasters, the annual Almanac was the source for farmers to look at long-range weather for the next few months. The publishers have kept a close lid on how the book makes its predictions without the aid of a satellite or even a groundhog. According to the Farmers' Almanac website, they follow a specific formula, and only one person knows it: Caleb Weatherbee.

Much like other things only one person really knows, it's crazy to think that something as important as how to predict weather remains classified. Caleb Weatherbee isn't even the person's real name; it's a pseudonym designed to keep him away from prying eyes. (Or at least, away from nosy competitors.)

The company maintains that keeping both the formula and Weatherbee's true identity secret is essential. What little we know about the formula, the company itself divulged. Invented back in 1818 by its first editor David Young, the formula considers astronomical activity such as sunspots, tidal movements of the Moon, the position of the planets, and other, secret, factors.

Over the years, the formula itself has changed from the original 19th-century version. Publishers of the almanac, though, said they trust Weatherbee's application of the formula because the formula itself has been time-tested. After all, they have been continuously publishing weather predictions for 200 years. That's longer than the National Weather Service, which was founded 50 years after them.

Who is Caleb Weatherbee?

Of course, Weatherbee is not an immortal, surviving for more than two centuries, just to say when people can expect a harsh winter. Since Weatherbee is a pseudonym, the man (or woman) inhabiting that persona has changed over time. Writes Mental Floss, in the 200-year history of Farmers' Almanac, there have only been seven Caleb Weatherbees entrusted with the secret weather forecasting formula.

Farmers' Almanac promises that Weatherbee exists — a real person. The current Weatherbee has been doing the job for the past 25 years and will probably remain in the position as chief rain fortune-teller for life. Mental Floss said today's Weatherbee was chosen because of a love for both the weather and the almanac. Farmers' Almanac managing editor Sandi Duncan said that "something special in the stars" happened when the current Weatherbee was appointed. In case you're wondering, Duncan, who has been with the almanac for 20 years, is not Weatherbee. Nor does she know the formula.

What if you want to be a Caleb Weatherbee someday? You'd have to be someone who likes figuring out the weather, and someone who looks past radar and satellite data. They want someone who understands that the formula can be more accurate than computer models.

When Farmers' Almanac publishes something related to the weather, they do so at least 16 months ahead of time. And they never take any prediction back. This means that they need to trust Weatherbee's expertise with the formula.

How accurate are they?

Professional weather forecasters believe the Farmers' Almanac is not as accurate as many might think. Readers, however, swear the almanac is correct 80-85 percent of the time, said Georgetown View. Forecasters say it's closer to around 30 percent accurate.

Penn State News said many meteorologists believe it's almost impossible to accurately predict weather as far ahead as the Farmers' Almanac claims to do. This is because there's no technique that scientists have studied that fits the bill. But, as one meteorologist said, if Farmers' Almanac shared its formula, others could scrutinize it to see why it works for many people. Besides, the meteorologist said, the almanac words its forecasts imprecisely. It will display a week as sunny/cool, without specifying when it will be sunny or cold.

Predicting the weather 16 months ahead, or even just a week ahead, is difficult, because the weather can turn just like that, and there's a lot of weird weather phenomena out there. Still, being the only person who knows the magic formula to predict when it will rain must be such a big honor. So, hats off to Caleb Weatherbee. Unless, of course, it's going to rain.