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La Niña And Sunspots

From a weather and agricultural point, I find this time of year to be the most difficult. Winter is still holding on, but historically we don’t see much in the way of severe weather during the second half of February. Spring is on the horizon, but is still at least three to four weeks away – maybe even longer. We already looked at the seasonal forecasts for spring and have looked back at the weather last fall and during the first half of winter. So the question is, what should we look at this week?

I decided that instead of looking at just one topic we will explore a few items. The first point of weather interest is the ongoing La Nińa conditions in the Pacific.

LA NIA

This cold episode has been occurring since last summer and has been borderline in strength between a moderate to strong La Nińa. This significant cooling of the equatorial Pacific has altered the course of the jet stream and has had major impacts on weather across the globe. La Nińa is seen as being at least partially responsible for some of the record-breaking flooding that has occurred around the world over the last few months. Closer to home, the current La Nińa is also blamed for the drought that is currently taking place over the southwestern U.S.

It is now looking more and more like this current La Nińa episode is ending. Ocean temperatures have begun to warm, and above-average temperatures have been observed off the coast of South America. Spring is the typical time of year for a La Nińa episode to end.

So what might happen should this La Nińa episode disappear over the next few months? We should see an end to the crazy extreme rain events, but other than that, it is really hard to say. The only thing I know is that it will make long-term general weather predictions for the upcoming summer more difficult. Without any definite pattern over the Pacific Ocean to use as a base for long-term forecasts, it will be anyone’s guess as to what Mother Nature has in store for us.

WARM YEAR

The second item of weather interest is that the final global weather numbers are in for January. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, January was the 17th warmest on record. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies rated January the 11th warmest on record. If you don’t trust the surface-based temperature measurements, the global satellite-measured temperatures for the lowest eight km of the atmosphere came in right on average for the 34-year record of data according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville. Ice conditions in the Arctic continue to be at record-low amounts at the end of January. These low ice conditions have continued into February.

SUNSPOTS

Our third and final weather story has to do with the sun. As some of you may know, we have just gone through a period of historically low sunspot activity and are now moving into a more active period. Typically when the sun is inactive we see a small but general decline in global temperatures. This is because when the sun is inactive it actually releases slightly less energy than when it is active.

This period of inactivity just happened to coincide with what has been measured as the hottest decade since modern weather records have been kept. Which, if you think about it, shouldn’t have happened since the sun was inactive. Instead of seeing record-warm years globally we should have seen average or even cool years.

Well, it seems like the sun is starting to become more active. On Feb. 15 the sun experienced the first x-class solar flare of the current sunspot cycle that began about a year ago. X-class flares are the strongest type of x-ray flare and are associated with large regions of sunspot activity. So what will this mean for us? Personally I think that over the next few years we will see more and more temperature records fall as temperatures continue to increase globally, thanks in part to lower amounts of Arctic ice and increased energy output from the sun.

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Springisonthe horizon,butisstill atleastthreeto fourweeksaway maybeevenlonger.

About the author

Co-operator contributor

Daniel Bezte

Daniel Bezte is a teacher by profession with a BA (Hon.) in geography, specializing in climatology, from the U of W. He operates a computerized weather station near Birds Hill Park.

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