Futurecasting

We’ll put it right out there: The world is not scheduled to end in 2012, not even according to the ancient Maya.

Following a tumultuous 2011, the year 2012 holds the promise of several life-changing — or at least game-changing — events. Thank goodness we’ll have an extra day in the leap year to deal with it all. To help you prepare for the new year, we talked to experts across many disciplines to get their insights into what the next 12 months will bring.

We told you so? Future forecasts may get more accurate, thanks to social media. Updates from Twitter, Facebook, and the like will give scientists and other experts more data to pore over when they attempt to accurately predict what comes next. But, as David Pennock and Duncan Watts of Yahoo! Research caution, always beware those who claim to see into the future, because sometimes a prediction is just coincidence.

The return of La Nina. The weather system known as La Nina is going to hang around for a bit, and it’s likely to bring heavy snowfall to the upper Midwest, more floods to flood-battered northern states, and more heat waves to drought-weary southern states. Thanks to the Earth’s warming atmosphere, says a U.S. Geological Survey associate director, major storms are likely to be intense and violent, wreaking havoc around the country.

A blockbuster with teeth. Yahoo! Movies editor Jon Crow says that the year will be packed with blockbusters featuring big-screen heroes like James Bond and Spider-Man. The powerhouse, though, might be the final film installment of the “Twilight” series in November, as newlywed and new mother Bella Cullen adapts to her profoundly altered life. What will Twihards do when they don’t have Team Jacob or Team Edward to root for? Could it be the end of the world?

Flirty fashion. Women will welcome the chance the float around in flirty, feminine dresses and skirts that will be all the rage in the fashionable world. As more soldiers return home from Afghanistan, observes stylist and Yahoo! fashion blogger Ariel Kaiser, fashionistas will ditch their military jackets and boyfriend jeans for girlie looks, a la the late ’40s.

Social networking pays. Consumers will be able to buy these things directly on their smartphones, and they will receive tailor-made advertisements on their phones as they walk by stores. A leading international librarian inspired by “Megatrends” gives seven tech trends, and look out: This looks to be the year that social networking will fuse itself to commerce, as new payment systems start to challenge the dominance of credit cards.

A mild market rally. The stock market looks to be rather low-key. Matt Nest, co-host of Yahoo! Breakout, predicts the Dow will experience a meager rally, as much as 10% overall. Home prices and unemployment rates shouldn’t get much worse — even though they aren’t likely to get a whole lot better.

Heated Olympic competition. An exciting drama is scheduled for the 2012 London Olympics this summer, with a potentially epic showdown between two American swimmers vying for the most gold medals. Yahoo! Sports columnist Martin Rogers has his goggles trained on Beijing Olympics record-breaker Michael Phelps and gifted upstart Ryan Lochte.

The Afghanistan question. The plan to withdraw one-third of American forces from Afghanistan by September is shrouded with uncertainty. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is now requesting that U.S. forces stay another decade, while the Pakistani government is outraged by recent NATO border attacks that killed 24 of its soldiers. If the withdrawal is not handled delicately, the region could devolve into chaos and civil war, as anti-American sentiments escalate. But this scenario may be avoided if President Obama puts sound policy ahead of politics, says the former director of the Counterinsurgency Training Center in Kabul.

Facing Obama. Statisticians have President Obama at a slight advantage to win the presidential election, but it’s still unclear who he will face. Herman Cain recently suspended his campaign, and now pundits are turning their attention to N­ewt Gingrich. However, number-crunchers say that most likely that Mitt Romney will be Obama’s opponent — and Yahoo! Research economist David Rothschild will keep running those numbers year-long for the Signal.

12/21/12. Perhaps the most anxiously awaited event of the year is winter solstice, happening on December 21, 2012. That’s when the Mayan long-form calendar reaches its end. While scholars, scientists, and New Age gurus agree that this does not mean the cataclysmic end to the world as we know it, they disagree about what might happen on that day.

Lisa Hix is a freelance writer and former Yahoo! editor who has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Glamour, and Bust. She’s currently an associate editor at Collectors Weekly and a KQED Arts blogger. Find her on Twitter.

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