Updates: Winter Temps and Solar Activity

by Bill Chameides | January 9th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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Will La Nina return to the South Pacific? Has the sun got its spots back? Here’s an update on both — two factors that affect global temperatures.

The news is in: it’s a girl!

Thursday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its latest forecast on the state of the Southern Pacific Ocean — which indicates whether this winter will bring cool temps (La Niña), warm temps (El Niño), or somewhere in between. It looks like the trend hinted at in last month’s forecast is now confirmed. La Niña (the cold version of the El Niño Southern Oscillation phenomenon) is here and will probably stay for a while — at least through spring.

The details of the forecast for January-March 2009 include “above-average precipitation in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys and below-average precipitation across the South, particularly in the southwestern and southeastern states. Other potential impacts include below-average temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and above-average temperatures across much of the southern United States.”

For the globe we can expect relatively cold temperatures on average. For this reason past incarnations of La Niña have masked global warming giving the false impression it was slowing when it was not; by the same token El Niño has made global warming temporarily appear more intense than it is in actuality (e.g., 1998).

Still in the Doldrums

In another forecast update, last week NOAA reported sunspot activity through the end of 2008. Continuing low activity suggests that solar output remains at the minimum of its 11-year cycle. The sun’s long sojourn at the minimum of its cycle is unusual but not outside the current range of prediction — at least not yet. The long sojourn is also likely damping the effects of increasing greenhouse gas warming.

Assuming the sun does resume its normal cycle, the warming should rapidly resume its trend as if nothing happened. Will it? The Solar Cycle 24 Prediction Panel is sticking with its original prediction so far, but plans to review it in the near future.  According to Doug Biesecker, the panel’s chair, don’t expect to see the solar maximum any earlier than 2012.

filed under: climate change, El Nino, El Nino-Southern Oscillation, faculty, global warming, La Nina, temperatures
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