The Southern Hemisphere is having an exceptionally cold winter season — are we next on the list?

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The sea ice surrounding Antarctica has been rapidly expanding at the rather astounding rate of more than 45,000 square miles per day since July 1.

Both Antarctica and the Arctic polar regions have seen minor expansions of sea ice since our sun ‘went silent’ in 2007. Icebergs have been seen as far north as New Zealand. Whales have been killing themselves trying to escape the thick packs of ice according to the Animal Planet Channel.

Many scientists now believe that we have entered an extended period of global cooling that may last for decades, even if the levels of carbon dioxide continue to increase.

At a recent U.N. conference, scientists said that "significant changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation of major ocean currents will likely dominate the cycle of manmade global warming, perhaps for 30 years or more."

Two prominent scientists at the conference said that "we could be entering the initial stages of a NEW LITTLE ICE AGE." Only time will tell ...

In the meantime, it’s certainly been an exceptionally frigid winter season thus far in the Southern Hemisphere.

For example, the heaviest snows in at least 21 years closed many roads in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa in mid June.

The sub-freezing weather conditions killed at least 500 penguins in Cape Town, where as much as six inches of snow fell in the hilly areas of the city. Temperatures dipped to as low as minus-8 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) between June 15-18.

Less than a month later, people shivered in near-freezing weather in the stands at Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium on July 11, as Spain won its first World Cup championship ever with a 1-0 victory over the Netherlands. More frigid weather is likely across South Africa by the ‘full moon’ cycle of late July.

Elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, winter arrived a month ahead of schedule in early May in Chile’s Valley Nevado region, as a series of four snowstorms rolled across parts of the country. Some stations received more than two feet of the white stuff. Temperatures plunged to record late-fall lows of 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-12 degrees Celsius).

An unusually severe cold snap struck parts of southeastern Australia in late June. Moderate to heavy snows fell in parts of Victoria at the higher elevations near Melbourne. Skiing was great!

Sub-freezing temperature produced widespread frosts and freezes across southeastern Australia. Readings in the low single digits (Celsius) were observed as far north as Sydney along the East Coast.

Brisbane and Adelaide each reported heavy rains and large-sized hail in late June. One rancher near Adelaide reported "hailstones the size of tennis balls." Both cities gauged as much rain in 48 hours or less than what normally falls during the entire month of June.

On Wednesday, June 30, Sydney recorded its coldest June morning since 1949. The mercury plunged to 4.3 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) just before 6 a.m. (AEST).

Another major cold snap from the Antarctic regions will push into southeastern Australia by the end of this week. Even some of the lower elevation stations will see killer-type freezes.

With the warm El Nino now ‘dead’ in the waters of the southern Pacific Ocean, much of Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil will see additional periods of much colder and, in some cases, much snowier than normal weather conditions in the next several weeks.

It’s possible that the coffee-growing regions in south-central Brazil will be hit later this month by freezing or near-freezing temperatures, especially in parts of Parana and Minas Gerais.

Coffee prices in New York City have already soared to around $1.70 a pound. If a hard freeze were to hit Brazil this winter season, prices at the retail level in the stores will SKYROCKET. Stay tuned.

ONE LAST NOTE: If we do see a new colder La Nina develop in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, this upcoming winter of 2010-11 could be a real ‘BEARCAT.’ Again, only time will tell.

NORTH IDAHO WEATHER REVIEW AND LONG-RANGE OUTLOOKS

Believe it or not, I’m already getting calls about things getting "too dry" after more than two weeks without measurable rainfall in the region and gusty and dusty conditions.

We must remember that July is normally our driest month of the year in North Idaho and the surrounding regions of the Inland Empire.

As of Thursday, July 15, our mid-month July 2010 Coeur d’Alene precipitation total stood at 0.58 inches, actually 0.11 inches above the normal month to date average of 0.47 inches since local records began in 1895. Our normal July precipitation in town is just 0.96 inches. Last July, in 2009, we gauged a healthy 1.59 inches the entire month.

For at least the next two months through mid September, I’m expecting more warm and dry weather under a very strong ridge of high pressure. It will be windy at times, however, as weak cold fronts ride over the top of the ridge into Montana and the Dakotas.

We probably will see some isolated thunderstorms this summer, but most of this activity will remain over the mountains to the east and south of our part of the country.

We had a couple of hot ‘Sholeh Days’ above 90 degrees on July 8 and 9 in Coeur d’Alene. More hot weather is due to arrive in late July and early to mid August, when we could see our first afternoon with triple-digit temperatures in the warmest areas.

The weather outlook for this year’s North Idaho Fair and Rodeo still looks good with afternoon highs in the upper 80s and lower 90s and generally dry conditions expected in late August for this favorite event.

Things could turn wet and cool again by late September or early October across North Idaho. If we do see a new cooler than normal ‘La Nina’ develop in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, the upcoming winter of 2010-11 could be quite snowy. Stay tuned.

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

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