As you probably know, this past week has been frigid for the upper Midwest as a piece of the Arctic air associated with the polar vortex has moved through the area. I think everyone there is glad that temperatures are already starting to warm up and they are likely to be above normal within a few days as the cold air mass moves out. Atlas Obscura posted an interesting story this week about an earlier attempt to predict a brutal Chicago winter in 1903-1904, when people using snakes, fish and squirrels to predict a cold winter there. At the time, C. F. vonHermann, a regional director of the Weather Bureau (at that time in the US Department of Agriculture) tried to convince people to abandon the “charlatans” who “pretend to believe that they have an infallible system of predicting the weather, storms, floods, or droughts for months or even years ahead.”
Of course, we still have charlatans like the almanacs and others pretending to provide accurate seasonal forecasts, and they get a lot of press in spite of proven lack of success, but forecasts from the National Weather Service and Climate Prediction Center, while not perfect, have come a long way and are actually very skilled most of the time.
You can read the Atlas Obscura article here.