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Low sunspot activity may spell colder weather for decades

A recent article published by my business partner, North Idaho climatologist Cliff Harris, talks about the possible impact of the sun on climate change.

According to NASA, the sun’s output of energy was at its lowest level ever recorded by modern instruments at the end of 2008. Solar winds, which are the stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the sun, were at a 50-year low.

From 1991 to 2007, the average yearly sunspot total was 1,099. But in the entire year of 2008, there were only 55 sunspots, a massive reduction of 95 percent. September 2008 had no sunspots counted for the first time since 1913.

The latest cycle of low sunspot activity slowly came to an end by early 2010 as the number of sunspots gradually began to increase. This was the longest such period of a low sunspot cycle since 1796, when the world was plunged into the Dalton Minimum. During that time, there were exceptionally cold temperatures on a global scale that didn’t end until 1830, 34 years later.

If the past is indeed a predictor of future weather trends, the earth’s temperature may turn colder than normal for at least the next couple of decades. However, there may be a brief period of intense sunspot activity expected in late 2012, around the end of the Mayan calendar.

Based on the sun’s normal 11-year cycle from solar maximas to solar minimas, our star is supposed to be heading toward higher sunspot activity. Although there has been some increase in solar storms over the past six months, the number of sunspots has remained relatively low, averaging about 10-30 per day. There have been days, even within the last month, of no sunspots at all.

Since the peak of the earth’s temperature in 1998, global readings have been fluctuating. Only time will tell on whether our planet turns warmer or cooler in the coming years.

In terms of our local weather, the upper-level wind flow patterns are showing signs of change. I still believe that we could see an additional 6 inches of snow at the airport from now through April 13. This means that we should end up in the mid to upper 50-inch range for seasonal snowfall.

At elevations above 3,500 feet in the nearby ski resorts, we could see another 1 to 3 feet of snow in the next couple of months. Don’t take those snow tires off just yet. Winter’s not over.

The spring of 2011 should be a bit cooler and wetter than usual in our region, providing that weakening La Nina doesn’t completely fall apart.

Contact meteorologist Randy Mann at randy@