February 2, 2012 in Washington Voices

Solar storms could be why we aren’t getting much snow

Randy Mann
 

Solar activity continues to be relatively high as we move through the winter season. Within the last several weeks, sunspot numbers have ranged from a high of 152 on Jan. 17 to a low of 34 on Jan. 28. Compared to the average number of sunspots from November and December, the recent figures have picked up. During our heavy snow years, solar activity was extremely low.

Another sign our sun is becoming more active was the massive solar storm Jan. 24. The huge solar flare erupted from the sun late Sunday and the radiation from this event hit the Earth at various times in a matter of days.

This massive storm was the strongest since May 2005, but was considered to be only a moderate “solar mass ejection event.” Polar-traveling airplanes had to be diverted for safety issues. The high dose of radiation from the sun can often lead to satellite disruptions and other communication problems.

The sun goes through an 11-year cycle. During the “peak” of the last solar maxima in the late 1990s, we were seeing 200 to 300 solar storms each day. This solar “maxima” cycle is not expected to peak until late 2012 or early to mid-2013. The increased solar activity may be one reason why the northern areas of the U.S., as well as southern Canada, have not seen the heavy snowfalls like those during the La Nina years in 2007, 2008 and 2010.

Many scientists warn that the upcoming maxima will be very strong and may create problems for power companies, satellites and other electronic devices like cellphones. Back in 1989, a solar storm was strong enough to shut down a power plant in Canada.

In terms of our local weather, high pressure will be rebuilding across our region over the next 10 days bringing us drier than normal weather. More storms are possible around the middle of the month and into early March. But, snowfall totals for the season are now expected to be near to below normal in the Spokane area. In the higher mountains, the recent storm was cold enough to produce lots of snow, which is great news for skiers and snowboarders.

If you have any questions or comments, you can contact Randy at www.facebook.com/wxmann.

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