Sunspots are storms on the sun.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, our sun was considered to be extremely active with a high number of solar storms. At that time, the Earth’s temperature was climbing at a dramatic rate. But, global temperatures have dropped a bit as sunspot activity was practically nonexistent over the last year.
In August 2008, there were no sunspots for the entire month. In 2009, there was only a slight increase in solar activity. Some scientists were starting to wonder if we were heading toward a new “Maunder Minimum,” a long-term colder cycle.
The Maunder Minimum was one of the sun’s most quiet times in recorded history. This occurred between 1645 and 1715. During those 70 years, the face of the sun was nearly devoid of sunspots, or solar storms, and broke away from its normal 11-year cycle. The Earth’s temperature was much colder and likely contributed to the Little Ice Age that lasted from around the 16th century to the 19th century.
In December, solar storms notably increased. On Dec. 19, there were 43 sun spots, the most in recent memory. However, on Christmas Day, solar activity went back to zero, but only for a day.
Since the beginning of 2010, there has been an average of 15 to 20 sun spots per day. So far this month, there has been only one day with a zero reading, Jan. 6. With the recent increase in activity, it’s quite likely that we may have already seen the bottom of this extended solar “minima” cycle.
There have also been about a dozen solar flares this month, which may indicate that we’re heading toward the “solar maxima” cycle. This new cycle is expected to peak in late 2012, in terms of solar activity. Some scientists claim this new solar maxima will be the strongest in history, while others say that it will be weak. Stay tuned.
As far as our local weather is concerned, most of our snow should be measured between next week and the middle of February. Unless there is a major pattern change, we’ll likely end up with below-normal snowfall for the 2009-10 season.
The upcoming spring, again thanks at least in part to the warm-water El Nino, should be mild and wet. The summer of 2010 looks like it will be hot and mostly dry.