The main driver of all weather and climate, the entity which occupies 99.86% of all of the mass in our solar system, the great ball of fire in the sky – has gone eerily quiet. The sun is currently virtually spotless despite the fact that this is supposed to have been a period of elevated sunspot activity during the solar maximum of solar cycle 24.
We are currently over four years into Solar Cycle 24 and it continues to “underwhelm” and be on a pace that would make it the smallest sunspot cycle since Cycle 14 which peaked in February 1906. There is a growing feeling that, based on the recent inactivity, the peak may have already happened during the latter part of 2011 - much earlier than originally forecasted. Another theory suggests that there may be a “double-peak” solar maximum for this cycle which would mean there could be a sharp spike in sunspot activity still to come later this year or in 2014, but there certainly have been no signs of that in recent days.
Solar cycle 24 began after an unusually deep solar minimum that lasted from 2007 to 2009 which included more spotless days on the sun compared to any minimum in almost a century. While a weaker solar cycle does not rule out the threat for strong solar storms, it does suggest that they will occur less often than during the stronger and more active cycles. The increasingly likely outcome for a weak solar cycle continues the recent downward trend in sunspot cycle strength that began over twenty years ago with solar cycle 22. In addition, there are some solar scientists who are already predicting that the next cycle, 25, will be even weaker than the current one. According to some research studies, weak solar cycles with extended lengths may actually have a downward effect on global temperatures in the medium and longer range. Weak solar cycles tend to last longer than the strong ones. There have been historical periods with minimal sunspot activity that lasted for several decades such as from the mid 1600’s to the early 1700’s when the so-called “Maunder Minimum” occurred and this period was quite cold globally. We’ll continue to periodically report on the latest solar activity here at “thesiweather.com” to monitor any important changes that may unfold.