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NASA: Deep Solar Minimum

Sunspot graph
© NASA/MFSC/Hathaway
The sunspot cycle from 1995 to the present. The jagged curve traces actual sunspot counts. Smooth curves are fits to the data and one forecaster's predictions of future activity.

The sunspot cycle is behaving a little like the stock market. Just when you think it has hit bottom, it goes even lower.

2008 was a bear. There were no sunspots observed on 266 of the year's 366 days (73%). To find a year with more blank suns, you have to go all the way back to 1913, which had 311 spotless days: plot. Prompted by these numbers, some observers suggested that the solar cycle had hit bottom in 2008.

Maybe not. Sunspot counts for 2009 have dropped even lower. As of March 31st, there were no sunspots on 78 of the year's 90 days (87%).

It adds up to one inescapable conclusion: "We're experiencing a very deep solar minimum," says solar physicist Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center.

"This is the quietest sun we've seen in almost a century," agrees sunspot expert David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Comment: Note on this NASA article from Joseph D'Aleo of IceCap:
Still some level of uncomfortable denial on the part of Hathaway who in late 2006 had proclaimed solar minimum and that solar cycle 24 was underway. It is at the very least like the cycles of the early 1900s but may be more like the early 1800s, the Dalton Minimum. As they said, time will tell.
Solar Cycle length
© unknown

sunspot cycle compares dalton minimum with current
© unknown
Comparison of sunspot cycles, Dalton Minimum to current sunspot cycle.



Bizarro Earth

US: More snow, more blizzards on the way

Snow weahter map April
© AccuWeather

Storms with paralyzing snow will continue to roll in off the Pacific Ocean, through the Northwest and Rockies and onto the Plains through the weekend. The new storms will continue to impact travel and shipping as a result.

One storm has already cleared the Northwest and is pushing through Colorado and the central Plains tonight. The storm can bring up to half a foot of travel snarling snow along Interstate 70 in portions of western and northern Kansas and much of Colorado.

Gusty cross winds in the southern and central Plains and Rockies associated with the storm can create tricky handling and a challenge to inexperienced drivers of small cars and 18-wheelers.

Evil Rays

US: Denver Blizzard Potential

March April Blizzards severe weather US
© AccuWeather

What a remarkable string of major snowstorms! Three blizzards in a row, two for the northern Plains and one for the southern Plains. Now a fourth storm will bring snow, but no blizzard, to parts of the central and southern Plains on Wednesday night into Thursday.

As if all this were not enough, still another storm will cut a path across the Rockies to the Great Plains, this time at week's end. It will bring snow and, at its worst, could whip up yet another blizzard.

However, one thing will be different this time. This storm will target the stretch of Plains crossed by Interstate 80, mostly over Nebraska and eastern Wyoming and it will reach south into Colorado along I-25 to at least Denver. At its worst, this storm will leave a windswept snowfall of 6-12 inches, which could be disruptive enough to interrupt travel along the major highways in this region.

Comment: The waves and waves of cold and snow keep coming. Along with it are many spring all time record cold and record snow amounts.

You can see some of them here:

Record snowfall March 27, 2009

Record Low Minimum Temperatures March 27, 2009


Cloud Lightning

US: Blizzard pummels Southern Plains

March blizzard plains
© Stephen Spillman / Amarillo Globe-News
This stretch of Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Texas, was among those shut down Friday by blizzard conditions.

Dallas - A major spring blizzard plodding eastward over the Southern Plains shut down major highways and paralyzed the region as residents braced Friday for up to a foot of snow, freezing 45 mph winds and massive snowdrifts.

Schools and government offices were closed and hundreds of travelers were stranded by the storm, which left some areas in a coat of ice. The snowfall was expected to be unprecedented for this time of year in Oklahoma, and the National Guard was called out in the Texas Panhandle, where snowdrifts as high as 11 feet were predicted before the storm moves on Saturday.

"It's blowing furiously," said Jerry Billington of Faith City Ministries in downtown Amarillo, which was under whiteout conditions. The 200-bed shelter was one of several setting up extra beds and encouraging homeless people to come in off the street.

Bizarro Earth

Two mild earthquakes measuring 5 and 4.1 hit northern Nicaragua

Two earthquakes measuring 5 and 4.1 on Richter scale shook on Tuesday the north zone of Nicaragua, damaging 28 houses and affecting 81 people.

Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER) said that the 5-magnitude quake was felt at 11:50 a.m. local time (1750 GMT). The epicenter was located 62.7 km underground and some 154 km north of Managua. The second earthquake was registered at 11:57 a.m. local time (1757 GMT), its epicenter was located 78.1 km underground.

Secretary from the Municipal Council of San Juan del Rio Coco, Carla Solis, said that the towns of La Dalia, Barrio Nuevo, San Lucas and San Pedro de las Canas were the most affected.

Bizarro Earth

Strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake hits Papua New Guinea coast

A strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea's northern coast on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, but there were no immediate reports of damage or tsunami activity. The quake hit at 1:55pm (0355 GMT) with an epicentre about 31 kilometres (19 miles) east-southeast of the coastal town of Wewak, at a depth of 10 kilometres (6.2 miles), the USGS said.

The tremblor was not expected to generate a tsunami, said assistant director of the PNG government's Geological Survey Department Chris McKee.

"I've had no reports of any damage and a 6.3 magnitude quake is unlikely to generate a tsunami," he told AFP.

Bizarro Earth

Underwater earthquake rattles western Indonesia

An underwater earthquake rocked western Indonesia on Wednesday, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey put the preliminary magnitude of the quake at 5.5. It struck 160 miles (260 kilometers) south of Bengkulu, a city on Sumatra island, around 20 miles (35 kilometers) below the ocean floor.

Residents along the coast said they did not feel the afternoon tremor.

The country's geophysics agency put the magnitude at a much higher 6.1. Such discrepancies - though large - are not considered unusual here.

Butterfly

Genes Help Monarchs Migrate

Activity of 40 genes differs in butterflies that stay put versus those that travel south.

Come fall, monarch butterflies feel the need for a change in latitude. A new study shows that changes in the activity of a suite of genes in the butterflies' brains help the insects find their way to overwintering grounds in Mexico.

Steven Reppert, a neurobiologist from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, leads a team of scientists on a mission to uncover the monarch's migratory signals. The team describes a new genetic analysis of stationary summer monarchs and fall migratory monarchs in the March 31 BMC Biology.

At least 40 genes are involved in keeping the monarchs Mexico-bound once they start migrating, the researchers report. Reppert and his colleagues analyzed 9,000 of the monarch butterfly's genes, about half of the genes in its genome.

Each fall, hundreds of millions of monarchs in the eastern United States and Canada begin flying south for the winter. The butterflies navigate with internal clocks and use the sun as a compass to find their way to overwintering grounds in oyamel fir forests in central Mexico. No one knows what environmental signals flip the switch that causes butterflies to forgo reproduction and start migrating.

Bizarro Earth

US: Magnitude 4.3 Palo Alto earthquake reveals newfound fault

A small earthquake that rattled parts of the Bay Area Monday morning occurred on a previously unknown fault, according to Jack Boatwright, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The magnitude 4.3 quake hit at 10:40 a.m. and was centered about 11 miles north of Morgan Hill and 16 miles east-southeast of San Jose, according to the USGS.

Personnel at several police departments and the USGS said they had not received reports of any damage. The trembling was felt mildly by residents in various parts of the Bay Area, including in San Francisco.

Boatwright said the small, unmapped fault that appears to have produced the earthquake is believed to be a "splay fault" off the Calaveras Fault, which is itself a branch off the San Andreas Fault. The fault crosses the hills east of San Jose, an area that is difficult to map.

Bizarro Earth

East Tennessee rocked by second earthquake in four days

The U.S. Geological Survey confirms that East Tennessee was rocked by its second small earthquake in four days over the weekend.

The most recent quake happened at 2:52 PM on Sunday in Bradley County and had a magnitude of 1.3.

USGS officials say its epicenter was located six miles north of Cleveland, in an open field along Eureka Road. The exact location of the quake was about 10 miles underground.