Is the sun causing the warming we have seen in recent decades?  This is a comment I occasionally get from people who are not paying careful attention to how climate works.  While solar radiation can affect climate on a variety of time scales (ice ages from distance-related orbital changes in our trip around the sun, “Little Ice Age” linked to lack of sunspots and presumed low solar activity), the recent warming has nothing to do with solar activity. Here’s some information on recent solar activity and how it compares to trends in temperature:

Source: NASA
Source: NASA


If you are interested in how the lack of solar activity might affect this coming winter’s weather, here is an excerpt from my friend John Feldt’s blog at

Solar activity, as measured by sunspot activity, continues to rapidly decrease.  There have been over 20 days so far in 2016 in which there were zero observed sunspots. Solar Cycle 24 is the weakest in over a century. The persistent decrease in solar activity points that the next solar minimum is approaching.
Solar Cycle 24 Background:

The sun goes through a natural solar cycle approximately every 11 years. The cycle is marked by the increase and decrease of sunspots which are visible dark regions on the sun’s surface and cooler than surroundings. The greatest number of sunspots in any given solar cycle is designated as the “solar maximum” and the lowest number is referred to as the “solar minimum” phase. We are currently more than seven years into Solar Cycle 24 and it appears the solar maximum of this cycle was reached in April 2014 during a spike in activity (current location indicated by white arrow).

Going back to 1755, there have been only a few solar cycles in the previous 23 that have had a lower number of sunspots during its maximum phase. The peak of activity in April 2014 was actually a second peak in solar cycle 24 that surpassed the level of an earlier peak which occurred in March 2012.  While many solar cycles are double-peaked, this is the first one in which the second peak in sunspot number was larger than the first peak.  The sunspot number plot (below) shows a clear weakening trend in solar cycles since solar cycle 22 peaked around 1990.

Winter 2016/2017 – Impact of Low Solar Activity

Almost all of the “major” winter outlooks, including the NOAA winter outlook, do not significantly factor in the current and anticipated low solar activity over the upcoming winter months. Actually, there is minimal research into direct relationships between solar activity and short- or medium-range weather.

However, a few outlooks do consider the solar minimum and suggest that the lack of solar activity could lead towards a colder-than-normal winter.

However, the main impact could be a moderation of already-warming temperatures. Think of it as a warm bathtub where you are gradually increasing cold water. There could be a lag between the onset of this period of low solar activity and noticeable impacts.

Or, there could be more significant and prolonged cooling like what has occurred in past history.