GAITHERSBURG — Chad Merrill is someone who likes to plan, having discovered the necessity of staying ahead of the weather while growing up in Western Maryland.
“I’ve always wanted to know what’s going to happen ahead of time, especially in the wintertime, coming from Western Maryland where Cumberland gets an average of 36.5 inches of snow a year and then, just over the mountain in Garrett County, 100 inches of snow a year,” Merrill, a Cumberland native who now lives in Gaithersburg, said during a recent phone interview.
“The hows and wonders of weather” in the area captured Merrill’s interest so completely, he said, that he went on to study meteorology in college. He worked for a time as a television meteorologist at WJAC-TV in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and what’s now WDVM in Hagerstown.
Last year, while serving in his current role as a senior meteorologist with Germantown-based Earth Networks, Merrill learned of a novel opportunity to become the next prognosticator for the Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack, the country’s second-oldest almanac.
A friend of his saw an ad for the role that said that former prognosticator Bill O’Toole, who’d spent decades in the role, was retiring. Merrill reached out and went through the interview process before being selected in October 2019.
The 2021 edition is the first in which his predictions appear, Merrill said, and is now available.
The almanac focuses largely on the mid-Atlantic region. They used to offer national weather predictions, Merrill noted, but beginning with this edition the predictions span “from the Mississippi Valley to the East Coast.”
“The biggest part of the job” is to produce forecasts for a 16-month period, Merrill said. “That takes up most of the time, forecasting the weather out that far.”
But, that’s also where his taste for planning ahead comes in handy.
It’s “next to impossible” to identify day-to-day weather when one is looking that far ahead, Merrill said, but trends can be predicted and tend to last for two to seven days.
A range of different factors go in to formulating his predictions, Merrill said. Archived data is helpful as a resource, as he uses everything from moon phases to sun spot cycles to make his long-term predictions.
He’s already started his work for 2022, and is “halfway through the year,” he said.
“I’ve always wanted to pursue long-term forecasting and climatology, so this is a good chance to do that,” Merrill said of his role with the almanac.
Like many other printed products, the almanac has struggled with sustaining itself in the digital age, Merrill said. To that end, they’ve established a YouTube channel where he posts weekly weather podcasts for readers. Folks can also subscribe online and get access to all the information contained in the hard copy, he noted.
He hopes those measures will help him attain the same sort of longevity as the previous prognosticator.
Editor Charles “Chad” Fisher’s family has published the almanac since its inception in 1797, the only one in the country that can claim that. So, the selection of just the right person to serve as the almanac’s next prognosticator was important, Fisher said.
“We’re doing a labor of love with the expense it takes to put the almanac together,” Fisher said, speaking of how he’s seen the almanac’s distribution dwindle in size in his lifetime. The work Merrill has done on social media has been excellent for helping them diversify their “humble little publication,” Fisher said.
“If you look at the 2021 edition, his fingerprints are all over it in addition to what Bill provided as content,” Fisher said. “The content he’s provided in addition to what he was asked to do has gone way beyond what we ever expected.”
For this winter, Merrill said he predicts a generally mild season with less snowfall than usual: Around 20 to 24 inches is predicted for Cumberland, he said. It will start early in Western Maryland, he said, with the first snow projected around Thanksgiving, and the potential of snow for the winter holidays.
Beyond Christmas, he said, the weather will see spells of cold snaps and thaws, with the season’s last freeze projected in April.