August 1, 2013 in Washington Voices

Solar storm activity believed on decline

Randy Mann
 

Our sun often produces storms on its surface and goes through cycles of high and low activity. There has been some evidence suggesting that when the sun is producing many storms on its surface called sunspots, the Earth’s temperature, as well as other planets, go through a period of warming. Each solar cycle is about 11 years.

Many believe the current cycle is at, or just coming out of, the solar maximum. On July 8, there were 143 sunspots, but that number had dropped to 49 solar storms on July 21. The latest number of sunspots on the sun is slightly less than 100. During the late 1990s when the Earth’s temperature was at its highest, the sun sometimes produced 200 to 300 sunspots per day.

According to solar scientists from NASA, solar activity has been falling steadily since the mid-1940s, even with the big solar maximum cycle in the late 1990s.

There is also speculation that the current cycle is very weak and could start entering another phase of little or no activity. The overall decline in solar storms does not mean that the sun is heading for another Maunder Minimum, which was from about 1645 to 1715 when solar activity was almost nonexistent. This likely contributed to Earth’s Little Ice Age.

Next year, the sun should start toward another minimum phase. During the last minimum, from 2007 to early 2010, our sun went nearly quiet as very few, if any, sunspots were seen. During that time the Earth’s temperature cooled much more than normal, and even record snowfalls were seen in our region and across other parts of the northern U.S.

It’s possible that the middle of this decade will see a repeat of a cold and snowy period, especially if a strong, cooler La Nina sea-surface temperature pattern forms around the same time.

In terms of our local weather, despite the expected showers and thunderstorms into the weekend, I still see warmer and drier-than-normal weather for August and at least early to mid-September. However, the fall is starting to look cooler and wetter than average, so enjoy the sunny days when we have them.

Contact Randy Mann at www.facebook.com/ wxmann.


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