Sunspot activity is getting lower

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We’re going to see the return of springlike weather as there will be lots of sunshine and temperatures warming to around the 80-degree mark through Tuesday. Then, we’ll have the return of occasional showers and thunderstorms across the region into the early portion of June.

Thanks to the record-breaking rainfall last Tuesday that dropped over an inch of moisture in Coeur d’Alene, our monthly precipitation total for May currently stands at 2.89 inches. The normal for this month is 2.37 inches.

May of 2017 will be the fourth month in a row with above normal precipitation in Coeur d’Alene. April had 4.29 inches compared to the normal of 1.77 inches. March had a whopping 6.64 inches, well above the normal of 1.94 inches. February had a record-smashing 8.01 inches of rain and melted snow, nearly four times the normal of 2.17 inches. January’s moisture total finished below the 3.77 normal with 2.83 inches.

For the season since Jan. 1, over two “feet” of rain and melted snow has been measured as we currently stand at 24.66 inches, a new record for the precipitation total to date. The normal is 11.33 inches and our normal for the season is 26.77 inches. Cliff and I see our annual total ending up around 40 inches for the 2017 season.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, sea-surface temperatures in the South-Central Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal. It’s quite possible that we may have a new El Nino, the warm-water phenomenon, declared later this summer or fall. Assuming that ocean waters continue to climb, we should see plenty of very warm to hot days this summer along with drier than normal precipitation. Then, rainfall should start to increase in the fall with above normal moisture. And, with a new El Nino, snowfall totals for the 2017-18 season will likely end up below average.

Since the beginning of 2017, there have been about 40 days the sun has not had any sunspots, or storms on its surface. This already exceeds the total number of spotless days in all of 2016, which was 32 days. From May 9 to 15, there were no sunspots reported.

This accelerated pace of decreasing sunspots, according to scientists, is a sign that the next Solar Minimum cycle is approaching. Forecasters expect the sunspot cycle, which swings like a pendulum between high and low sunspot numbers every 11 years, to reach its next low point around 2019 to 2020. This is also the time frame when Cliff predicts a whopping 200 inches of snow for Coeur d’Alene, assuming we also get a strong, cooler La Nina sea-surface temperature pattern.

Our sun may seem to be unwavering in the sky, but it does have a “heartbeat” of sorts. There are pulsations between dimmer and brighter phases so slow that it only “beats” approximately nine times each century. The total energy varies about 0.1 percent over each 11-year cycle from high to low activity. But, it appears that the slight variance in the sun’s phases may play a critical role in our Earth’s environment.

Between 1645 and 1715, there were very little sunspots, or solar storms. This was a period astronomers called the “Maunder Minimum.” During those 70 years, the face of the sun was nearly blank of sunspots and broke away from its normal 11-year cycle. In one 30-year period, astronomers only observed approximately 50 sunspots, compared to a more typical 40,000 to 50,000 solar storms.

That time in history was also called “The Little Ice Age” as Europe was dealing with extreme cold and the Thames River in London froze solid. They even 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.

In 2007-08, sunspot activity was practically non-existent. The big decrease in solar activity was blamed, at least in part, for the harsh winter of 2007-08 across our region and other parts of the northern U.S. In Coeur d’Alene, Cliff measured 172.9 inches of snow for that season.

Enjoy the warm weather!

Contact Randy Mann at

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