Every year for my birthday, my wife, Mary Alice, buys me a copy of the current Old Farmer's Almanac. I guess one could say that we aren't big spenders; however, this is a gift I use throughout the year.
The almanac always has an interesting article on weather, and "When the Sun Takes a Vacation," in the 2013 almanac is no exception.
Astronomers have predicted that, in 2013, the sun's solar cycle will reach its peak, with solar flares on the sun putting our satellites and electric grids at risk. Some believe these solar flares will cost upward of $2 trillion dollars.
Sun spots and flares were recognized as early as 28 B.C. when Chinese astronomers noticed small dark areas on the sun; however, at the time, astronomy was frowned upon because of religious beliefs. There also was a lack of equipment to view the sun and the spots.
The first most noticeable effects of sunspots on our climate were the northern and southern lights, which are known as the aurora. The magnetic field that is projected from solar flares is much more powerful than the magnetic field that protects earth. The solar flares create a magnetic storm, which is seen by the colors in the sky during an aurora.
The year 2013 could be viewed as an unlucky year, not because of the number 13 but because of these solar flares. Astronomers have numbered the solar cycles that blast the earth with hot ionized gas, and solar No. 24 will reach its peak this year.
The year 2012 has been recorded as the hottest year on record, and predictions are that 2013 will be just as hot.
Although solar flares sound formidable what could be even more frightening is that the sun is going into a very long and quiet period. The last time the sun went into a period such as this occurred in the years 1550 through 1850, which was known as the "little ice age."
When we heard our grandparents talk about the colder temperatures and deeper snows back when they were young, they probably had not exagerated.
For centuries, sun spots and their cycles have been studied by analyzing tree rings. Scientist have determined that from the ninth century to the 13th century, the sun was extremely active, with historical records showing that the earth was warm. It is recorded that the Vikings grazed cattle in Greenland and also settled in Newfoundland.
Then came a period when the sun spots were quiet, with very few solar flares, and the earth's global temperature dropped 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. In the 1600s, caravans of oxen carts departed from Sante Fe, New Mexico, and traveled 330 miles south, where they crossed the frozen Rio-Grande River into Mexico.
From 1607 to 1814, citizens in England held huge ice fairs on the frozen Thames River. In 1780, the temperatures were so low that in New York, the people walked across the frozen Hudson River from Manhattan to Staten Island.
During the years 1790 to 1830, the last drop in solar activity occurred, which coincided with crop failures and famines.
From 1940 to 2005, solar activity was higher than the previous 1,000 years. Some scientists say this could not account for all of the recent global warming, especially since 1980; however, it probably was a factor.
Scientists say there are four factors that determine global temperature: carbon dioxide levels, volcanic eruptions, Pacific El Nino patterns and the sun's activity.
Bob Berman, who is an astronomer, has stated that if the upcoming solar maximum cycle is normal, especially if an El Nino follows within two years as most often happens, the middle of this decade will be the hottest period man has experienced on earth.
However, if either the upcoming maximum is wimpy (as most solar researchers expect) or if the sun now is entering an extended period of low activity, this would be for the best for us. The sun entering an extended period of low activity would mitigate climate change, which would cool our climate to offset our greenhouse gases, and this will buy us time to fix the effect of greenhouse gases.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.