What's causing the 'strange doings' on the sun? - Coeur d'Alene Press: Weather Gems

What's causing the 'strange doings' on the sun?

Weather Gems

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Posted: Monday, December 2, 2013 12:00 am

Scientists tell us that current solar activity is "stranger than at any time in more than a century." Recent weird weather on a global scale may have been caused by the 'fickle' sun.

The sun is producing barely half the normal number of sunspots usually seen at the peak of an 11-year cycle of activity called the 'solar maximum.' Scientists are 'dumbfounded!'

David Hathaway, the head of the solar physics group at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., recently stated, "I would say that the current peak in sunspots is the weakest in at least 200 years."

Based on historical records, astronomers say that the sun should be producing sunspots broader than the size of the earth causing problems like short-circuiting satellites, smothering cellular signals and damaging electrical systems. But, this is not happening, a scientific 'mystery' of sorts.

"There is no scientist alive who has seen a peaking solar cycle as weak as this one," according to Andres Munoz-Jaramillo, a professor at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

To complicate this "solar riddle," the sun is likewise undergoing one if its oddest 'magnetic reversals' in recorded history.

Normally, the sun's magnetic north and south poles change polarity every 11 years or so with the highs of sunspot activity.

During a magnetic field reversal, the sun's polar magnetic field weakens, drops to zero, and then emerges again with a stronger opposite polarity.

But, during the current weak cycle, the sun's magnetic poles are "out of sync," according to solar scientists. The sun's north magnetic pole reversed polarity more than a year ago and now has the same polarity as the South Pole, quite 'unusual' to say the least. Scientists are puzzled as to why the South Pole hasn't reversed polarity.

Our sun now seems quite 'feeble' at the current peak of solar activity, especially when compared to the Halloween solar storm in 2003, near the peak of the last solar maximum. That huge storm was the largest of the modern era. It crippled a critical Japanese satellite and sent astronauts aboard the International Space Station "scrambling for radiation shelter." Oil and gas drilling operations were shut down in Alaska and GPS navigation was disrupted.

As our next solar cycle heads towards a 'solar minimum' in the years between 2014 and 2020, sunspot activity should decrease and our planet's outer atmosphere will cool and contract. This will also give the earth a chance to cool off. Winter seasons should see more snow and colder temperatures, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Frosts will likely occur later in the spring season and earlier in the autumn period.

According to Russian climate scientists, "We should be concerned with GLOBAL COOLING, not GLOBAL WARMING."


As expected, we had near-perfect weather across the region for both Thanksgiving Day and so-called 'Black Friday,' as I wrote my weekly North Idaho weather review and long-range outlooks.

As of 10 a.m. on Nov. 29, we hadn't had even a single drop of rain or a flake of snow in 10 days, thanks to a strong ridge of high pressure across the Inland Empire that produced a record barometric reading of 31.01 inches on Friday, Nov. 22.

Temperatures during the early morning hours in the chilly dry spell dipped to as low as 14 degrees on Player Drive on Nov. 22, the coldest reading locally since we observed 13 degrees on Jan. 13, our coldest temperature in Coeur d'Alene during the entire mild winter of 2012-13.

The near-record long late November dry spell was due to end during the extended holiday weekend into early this week. Moderate to heavy snows were predicted in the nearby mountains for the skiers with rain and snow showers likely at the lower elevations in the valley below 2,500 feet. Our total precipitation on Friday, Nov. 29, in the month stood at 2.80 inches, fairly close to the November average rainfall of 3.07 inches in the 118 years since records began in 1895. Our snowfall as of Nov. 29 for the entire season in town was a puny 2.8 inches compared to the normal of 8.6 inches. As previously mentioned, it was a great month locally for motorists, gardeners and shoppers alike as far as weather was concerned.

Longer-term, the six-week period from early December through mid January, thanks to a cool, wet 'La Nada' sea-surface temperature event in the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean, should be snowier and a bit colder than usual. A brilliant WHITE CHRISTMAS is almost a certainty this year. Ski conditions should be GREAT on the nearby slopes. Stay tuned.


Sharon and I wish to add our condolences to the Ritterbach family for the loss of John Ritterbach in mid November. John was a worthy proponent of global warming. I will miss the back-and-forth volleys between us.

Cliff Harris is a climatologist who writes a weekly column for The Press. His opinions are his own. Email sfharris@roadrunner.com

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