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Washington Voices

Randy Mann: Sunspot activity could push temperatures higher

Thu., Feb. 17, 2011

As I’ve mentioned in last week’s column, solar activity, combined with La Nina, the cooler than normal sea-surface temperature event in the south-central Pacific Ocean, may be contributing to some of the wild and chilly weather over parts of the U.S., and the world since late last year.

Earlier this month, a number of record lows were observed. For example, places like Fayetteville, Ark., have seen one the harshest winters in recorded history. The big storm last week dumped an incredible 26 inches of snow on Fayetteville. The total for the season is more than 42 inches, a record. In addition to the snow, temperatures plunged to 18 degrees below zero about a week ago.

In early February, Leadville, Colo., dipped to 42 below zero, a record low for February.

Winter wheat, citrus and vegetable crops were destroyed by temperatures in the teens in the Rio Grande Valley of southwestern Texas and northern Mexico in early February. Temperatures dipped into the upper teens and lower 20s.

Some scientists have blamed this new round of frigid weather on the cooler La Nina and the unusually low sunspot activity.

Solar activity remains low, but has shown signs of rebounding within the last few weeks. The latest figures have total solar storms averaging between 40 and 70 per day. On Tuesday, the total jumped to 90 sunspots, the highest in years. The sun also released the most powerful solar flare in four years on Valentine’s night. The event only caused a more spectacular show of the northern lights, or aurora borealis. However, these are indications there may be more activity later this year.

The latest cycle of low sunspot activity seems to be coming to an end. Activity is slowly increasing. Assuming that La Nina weakens within the next several months and solar storms continue to climb, then Earth’s temperature may become warmer. The new solar maxima, a period of high sunspot activity, is scheduled to occur in late 2012.

In terms of our own weather, we are seeing a pattern change that will give our region more moisture, including snow. Based on climatological data, when we see a snowier-than-normal November or December, we often experience drier conditions in January and at least early February.

The last part of winter, which includes late February and March, will often return to snowier-than-normal weather. However, don’t expect to see snow totals like we had in November. As I said last week, winter is not over. I wouldn’t take off those snow tires just yet.

Contact meteorologist Randy Mann at

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