Our sun may be heading toward a ‘grand minimum’

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New research from the University of California, San Diego has determined that our sun is likely heading toward a large “dimming” phase called the “grand minimum.”

Approximately every 11 years, the sun’s sunspot cycle goes through a “minima” and “maxima” phase. In 2014, our planet was in the peak of the solar maxima and we’re currently heading toward the new minima.

When solar activity is high, there are more sunspots on the sun. These storms on the sun are seen as dark patches on the solar surface, forming when the sun’s process of nuclear fusion in its core forces the magnetic loops that it creates high up into its atmosphere. This sequence of events ultimately ejects more ultraviolet radiation, resulting in the creation of sunspots and flares, and leading to a more active sun.

However, when the cycle changes to the minima, there are very few sunspots, as was the case back in in the mid to late 2000s. The winter season of 2007-08 produced record snows, about two to three times normal, from the Inland Northwest eastward across the northern U.S. Global temperatures also surprisingly fell about a degree before rebounding several years later. During that snowfall season of 2007-08, Coeur d’Alene picked up an all-time record 172.9 inches.

Scientists believe this new “grand minimum” of the sun could begin as soon as 2020 and continue through 2070. Some of this information is based upon the study of other stars that have similar characteristics to our sun. The new research estimates that the sun is likely to be 7 percent cooler than its usual minimum cycle in the coming years.

It’s only 2018, and we’re already starting to see many days with no sunspot activity. For example, from Feb. 18 - 25 and March 3 - 9, the number of sunspots, or solar storms, on the sun were at zero. When there were sunspots late last month, most days had totals in the teens.

Scientists believe that the upcoming “grand minimum” could drop the Earth’s temperature by several tenths to a half-degree Fahrenheit. But, our current period of global warming was briefly halted in its tracks about 10 years ago during the last major solar “minima.”

The last time there was a long period with the lack of sunspots was between 1645 and 1715. This was a time in history astronomers called the “Maunder Minimum.” During those 70 years, the face of the sun was nearly blank of sunspots and mysteriously broke away from its normal 11-year cycle. In one 30-year period, astronomers only observed approximately 50 sunspots, compared to more typical 40,000 to 50,000 solar storms.

That time in history the Earth was in the midst of the so-called “The Little Ice Age” as Europe and parts of North America were dealing with extreme cold. The Thames River in London froze solid and residents held winter fairs on the ice. Glaciers also advanced in the Alps and the northern sea ice expanded. By the early 18th century, for reasons no one understands, the sun returned to its familiar 11-year sunspot cycle.

Prior to that period of extreme cold was the Medieval Warm Period (approximately 800-1300 A.D.). The sun was relatively active in terms of sunspot activity. It was warm enough to allow the mighty Vikings to colonize a lush, verdant Greenland. Britain was also a wine-producing country. Tomatoes, grapes and other weather-sensitive plants grew wild in now frigid Labrador in northeastern Canada.

Our planet continues to warm up as the last 3 years, according to data from the National Climatic Data Center, were the highest in recorded history. In 2017, the land and sea global average temperature was 58.51 degrees, which was 1.51 degrees above the 20th century mean of 57.0 degrees.

Remember, history shows that our planet was much warmer prior to big cool downs. Some scientists say we’re heading toward a new ice age, but that may be a bit premature. With the big reduction in sunspot activity, it’s quite possible that the U.S. and southern Canada will experience more tough winters, especially around the early 2020s. Remember, Cliff is predicting about 200 inches of snow for Coeur d’Alene around that time, assuming we also have a strong, cooler La Nina sea-surface temperature pattern. As usual, only time will tell.

In terms of our local weather, temperatures may challenge the 60-degree mark in some areas into Tuesday. Then, a new storm will bring us rain showers and cooler readings on Wednesday.

The latest Coeur d’Alene snowfall figure stands at 87.1 inches, above the 69.8 seasonal normal. Between now and the end of the season, Coeur d’Alene averages close to 4 inches of snow. It still may be a good idea to keep those snow tires on a little longer, probably through the first week of April. Toward the end of next week, weather patterns are showing a change which would bring a chance of some snow to our region once again.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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