Listen: Cartwright's Calendar - The weather prophet

Mainstreet Radio's Leif Enger interviews northern Minnesotan farmer Floyd Cartwright and others about weather “prophesying.”


1997 NBNA Award, award of merit in General Reporting - Large Market category


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[DOOR KNOCKING] FLOYD CARTWRIGHT: Hello, come on in, Sammie.

LEIF ENGER: Floyd Cartwright lives in a yellow brick farmhouse near shevlin, a community of 200 people about 20 miles west of Bemidji. He was born on this farm 71 years ago. It was here that he learned to work the ground and to watch the sky. Floyd Cartwright prophesies the weather.

FLOYD CARTWRIGHT: I use natural cycles, the way God creates the weather. The sun, the moon, and the earth, they have innumerable cycles each of them.

LEIF ENGER: Afternoon coffee with Floyd Cartwright is something like having a conversation with the Old Farmer's Almanac. Each fall Cartwright sits down with his self-devised charts and graphs and forecasts the weather for the next calendar year. There are no computers in Cartwright's personal weather station, no radar screens, but a barometer hangs on the wall over his desk, and he often refers to history when predicting the future.

FLOYD CARTWRIGHT: I have weather clippings going back into the 1920s. These two books up here, notebooks, are weather clippings.

LEIF ENGER: It takes Cartwright about a month. He says to work out each year-long forecast. He does it using established facts about earth and lunar cycles, a few theories of his own, and notes that he's written about each day's weather for the last 50 years. The result isn't a usual TV-type forecast. A typical entry covering four days in March reads warmer thawing and then some rain and snow. But Cartwright says that's useful information and almost always accurate.

FLOYD CARTWRIGHT: The '87 one was just about a little over 90%. '86 was well over 90%. My '83 forecast that I showed you was around 98%.

BETTY JOLENE: I still don't know exactly what he's talking about how he gets the weather. And I've heard him tell me many, many, many times. But he loses me.

LEIF ENGER: Betty Jolene and her husband Walter raised cattle on a farm just a couple miles southeast of Cartwright's. Like some other nearby farmers, they've used his forecasts to help plan their work. Betty says it's turned out well.

BETTY JOLENE: During calving season, it's very important. You want to really be prepared or you could really lose a lot of cattle. If you didn't get them in under cover and probably has come in handier than the so-called legal forecast or whatever.

LEIF ENGER: There are plenty of examples that seem to show the success of Cartwright's system. He predicted last year's mild winter and also the regional flooding of two years ago that ruined many farmers crops. Still, not everyone here puts much trust in the Cartwright calendar. There are some who consider it an oddity like tea leaves or a horoscope. Meteorologist Herbert Munson at the National Weather Service office in Fargo categorizes Cartwright with almanacs and eccentrics who make their best guess at the weather and call it a forecast.

HERBET MUNSON: Well, I think they've got their position, and it's just like-- we take a look at the almanac just to see what happens, and we noticed this year that when they had storms coming in, nothing happened, and so on and so forth. But we have to be a little bit more exact than that as far as the weather service is concerned.

LEIF ENGER: On this January day, a heavy weather system is carrying snow toward shevlin from the southwest. A television forecast just a few hours ago said the storm would miss the area. Floyd Cartwright walks up a flight of wood stairs to a tiny dim room and snaps up a blind on the west wall.

FLOYD CARTWRIGHT: The clouds have been getting thicker. There's a reddish tinge to the sky, which is a warning sign. Animals were very active feeding in the last couple of days. That's another sign, and I had it forecasted. So I knew it was coming.

LEIF ENGER: On the Cartwright farm near Shevlin, Minnesota, I'm Leif Enger.

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