Why a Warming World Could Turn Cold

Sun and Earth Moving in Opposite Directions?

April 29, 2020
Sunspot Cycles

A few months ago, I discussed the challenges that forced me to modify the methodology that I use in making the long-range weather forecasts for The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

The two primary challenges were that (1) increasingly, over the past two decades, the actual weather has been warmer than that forecast by our traditional forecast methodology, and (2) we are in a period of low solar activity that is cooling Earth, thereby offsetting some of that warming.

I offered that the fact that solar activity (the driver of the Almanac’s long-range forecasts) in recent years has suggested that temperatures should have been relatively cool represents strong evidence that there is some other factor causing warming, which would most likely be the increase in greenhouse gasses caused by human activities.

Further, I cautioned that “I do expect that solar activity over the next 15 to perhaps 50 years will remain low. And if I am correct, this will keep Earth’s temperatures cooler than they would otherwise be, although still continuing a general year-to-year warming trend. Then, once solar activity returns to near-normal levels, temperatures would jump significantly higher—perhaps on the order of one to two degrees F.”

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Since I wrote those words, solar researchers have raised similar concerns. Recent research, led by Valentina Zharkova at the UK’s Northumbria University, predicted rapidly decreasing magnetic waves for the three solar cycles from 2021 to about 2054. According to her model, solar activity as expressed by sunspots and solar flares will be reduced by as much as 60 percent during this period.

Leading solar researcher Javaraiah Javaraiah of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, in a paper published in the journal Solar Physics in November 2017, agreed, predicting that cycles 25 and 26 would be weaker than cycle 24, which was the weakest cycle in more than 100 years.

According to Zharkova: “In cycle 26, the two waves exactly mirror each other, peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the Sun. We predict that this will lead to the properties of a ‘Maunder Minimum.’”

The Maunder Minimum was the period from about 1645 to 1715, when sunspots and related solar activity were practically nonexistent and there was a time of unusually cold weather in much of the world. 

Zharkova expressed the same concern that we did, when she stated, “I hope that global warning will be overridden by this effect, giving humankind and Earth 30 years to sort out our pollution. The downward impact on global warming will last until the 2050s, when the Sun’s two magnetic waves become active again.”

Find the long-range forecasts in this year’s edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

About This Blog

Mike Steinberg is Senior Vice President for Special Initiatives at AccuWeather Inc in State College, Pennsylvania. He is also a member of the National Weather Association and the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society.

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