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Clear link between solar activity and winter weather revealed

10 October 2011, by Tamera Jones

Scientists have demonstrated a clear link between the 11-year sun cycle and winter weather over the northern hemisphere for the first time.

The sun

The sun and its activity

They found that low solar activity can contribute to cold winters in the UK, northern Europe and parts of America. But high activity from the sun has the opposite effect.

The study helps explain why the UK has been gripped by such cold winters over the last few years: the sun is just emerging from a so-called solar minimum, when solar activity is at its lowest.

'Our research establishes the link between the solar cycle and winter climate as more than just coincidence,' says Dr Adam Scaife from the UK's Met Office, one of the study's authors.

The findings, published in Nature Geoscience also raise the tantalising possibility that the regularity of the solar cycle might help weathermen predict cold winter weather over the northern hemisphere.

'We've been able to reproduce a consistent climate pattern, confirm how it works, and quantify it using a computer model. This isn't the sole driver of winter climate over our region, but it is a significant factor and understanding it is important for seasonal to decadal forecasting,' says Scaife.

'Our research establishes the link between the solar cycle and winter climate as more than just coincidence.'
Dr Adam Scaife, UK Met Office

Up until now, researchers have only managed to see a weak link between solar activity and winter weather: when the sun is less active, we're more likely to see weak westerly winds during the winter in the northern hemisphere. This pattern suggests that easterly winds could bring cold weather from the continent to the UK.

But scientists have struggled to incorporate these ultraviolet (UV) signals into climate models.

Now, new satellite measurements from NASA's Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) have revealed that differences in UV light reaching the Earth during the 11-year solar cycle are larger than previously thought. The satellite, launched in 2003, is the first ever to measure solar radiation across the entire UV spectrum.

'The instrument on the SORCE satellite divides UV light up into small wavelength regions, providing good spectral resolution. Before this, climate models used broad spectral bands, so couldn't reveal the solar signal,' explains Professor of atmospheric physics, Joanna Haigh from Imperial College London.

Using this new information in a Met Office climate model, Scaife, Haigh, and other researchers from the Met Office and the University of Oxford, demonstrate that it's possible to reproduce the effects of solar variability which show up in climate records.

It seems that in years of low UV activity, unusually cold air forms over the tropics in the stratosphere, about 50 kilometres up. This is balanced by a more easterly flow of air over the mid latitudes – a pattern which then makes its way down to the Earth's surface, bringing easterly winds and cold winters to northern Europe.

But when solar activity is higher than usual – around the peak of the 11-year solar cycle – the opposite happens: strong westerly winds bring warm air and so milder winters to Europe.

'What we're seeing is UV levels affecting the distribution of air masses around the Atlantic basin. This causes a redistribution of heat – so while Europe and the US may be cooler, Canada and the Mediterranean will be warmer, and there is little direct impact on global temperatures,' explains Sarah Ineson from the Met Office, lead author of the report.

'Even with the most sophisticated atmospheric models, it is very hard to predict weather patterns on seasonal timescales. This study, along with our ongoing research through the NERC Solar Variability and Climate (SOLCLI) consortium, is adding much detail to our current understanding,' says Haigh.

She is keen to point out that this finding is based on just one satellite: 'If there's something wrong with the instrument we used to get this new data, this might not be right.'

Haigh is however, confident of the mechanism. 'While statistical data pointed to links between UV from the sun and winter weather, this new paper explains how those links come about,' she says.

Sarah Ineson, Adam A. Scaife, Jeff R. Knight, James C. Manners, Nick J. Dunstone, Lesley J. Gray and Joanna D. Haigh, Solar forcing of winter climate variability in the northern hemisphere, Nature Geoscience, published 9 October 2011, doi:10.1038/ngeo1282

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Your comments

Excellent post. Another brick added to the wall of human knowledge.

Amoeba, 3rd rock
Monday, 10 October 2011 - 08:46

Really helpful to get the full story from a reliable source having caught this in passing on R4.

Susan Ballard, Swindon
Monday, 10 October 2011 - 09:29

Piers Corbyn who has a degree in Astrophysics has made a business out of weather forecasting based on the sun's activity and he is highly accurate.

I have no association with him but macro sun activity maybe the reason for all climate change and not Al Gore's AGW climate change junk science.

Dave Atherton, London
Monday, 10 October 2011 - 11:53

I congratulate and appreciate the authors for establishing the relation of the variable Sun with the temperature fluctuation. Research is going on to establish the link with the Sun-Earth specially the perturbation in thermosphere-ionoshere-atmosphere and geosphere. Following references can be useful:

1. S. Mukherjee. (2011). Sun-Earth-Cosmic connection ISBN 978-3-8443-0731-3 LAP Lambert Academic Publishing Germany
2. S.Mukherjee (2011). Sun-earth-cosmic connection to understand early warning of earthquakes. Advances in Earth Sciences, Vol. II Edited by Satish C. Tripathi, Satish Serial, Geological Survey of India 2011, xvi, 362 p, ISBN : 81-89304-92-5
3. Mukherjee,S. (2009). Sun-Earth-cosmic connection to understand early warning of earthquakes. Journal Earth Science India Vol.2 (II), April, 2009, pp. 83 - 93
4. Mukherjee Saumitra. (2008).Cosmic Influence on Sun-Earth Environment. Sensors 2008, 8, 7736-7752; DOI: 10.3390/s8127736
5. Mukherjee, S. (2007). Changes in Heliophysical parameter influence on Environment of the Earth. Bull.Astr.Soc.India (2007) 35, 1-7
6. Mukherjee, S. (2006). Influence of Starflare on the Sun-Earth environment and its
Possible relationship with snowfall. European Geological and Geophysical Sciences Letter, (Germany) EGU, Issue no.14 pp. 14-17, ISSN 1027-6343,

Monday, 10 October 2011 - 13:41

The weather is driven by the sun, and the sun has been know to have an approximate ll year cycle since I was a kid. At last the science backs up the folk lore!

Trevor Prew, Sheffield
Monday, 10 October 2011 - 15:41

ive been a fan of the suns influence on earths climate especialy since 2007 when the uk started to break weather records right left and center record coldest and wet summers record dullest august coldest dec ever recorded coldest sept in southwest england coldest summer this year since 1993 ive even noticed that the clouds forms have changed alot since 2007 as well we in nottingham started to get more high fluffy cumulous clouds and very high whispy cloud like herring bone shapes and they were dif clouds as im always checking the sky and clouds for changes in the weather ive sent off countless comments to the daily express about our sun is in a low solar active state and that combined with the effects this as on the jet stream making it move further south and changing weather patterns if you had in other effects such as la nina the cold ocean current which is still influencing the weather patterns and sulphur dioxide from volcaic explosions which block out the suns rays then u get a large temp drop sulphur dioxide does the opposite to CO2 it blots out all the suns light and prob effect the uv light as well with la nina around and weve had 2 volcanic erruptions in the past 18 months plus the jet stream weakend then we got the right recipie for cold weather

sharoncalladine, nottingham ng11 8fn
Monday, 10 October 2011 - 21:01

Solar fluctuations cause natural temperature fluctuations. As far as I know they are about max +/-0.4C (AGST) Celcius. The frequency of this amplitude is a couple of times every 10000years. Of course a change of 0.8C° will be perceved in London or Newyork as hot/cold. Fluctuations of +/-0.2C° are no exception. However we should not mix up temperature rises of +/-2C° with +/-0.2C° (AGST). A mouse is not an elephant and a car is not a bicycle. A real solar high I expect by 2165.

3forcecaptain, Belgium
Monday, 10 October 2011 - 23:10

Glacials start with volcanic clouding:
Rising quakes - volcanic activity - cloud cover - storms - floods, as happened just before world-devastating 5year 1815-20 Tambora volcanic winter
and during most of the Little Ice Age, that provoked the cannibalic COLLAPSE of deforestating Mayas, Aztecs, Incas...

If altruist rescuers coordinate, humankind may revive truce and mutual-aid to AVERT next ice age!

We immediately must test the proposal to AVERT volcanic winter through crater-caps/grids hold by zeppelins over extra active volcanoes to prevent ash ejection to the stratosphere: the begining of every ice age.
OPEN PUBLIC DIALOGUE, DECENTRALIZATION and GLOBAL AFFORESTATIONS offer food and wood, promote mutual-aid and prevent cannibalism.

AVERTvolcanic winter, USA
Thursday, 13 October 2011 - 14:35

This is a very good work indeed. Some constructive comments:
.First two authors in their earlier works clearly showed a very strong influence of ENSO on NAO. EL Nino via Brewar-Dobson circulation and polar vortex (one pathway) is linked to negative phase of NAO. Thus usually cold Britain during El Nino and warm Britain during La Nina. The winter in some areas of Europe and northern USA is mostly regulated by the phase of NAO as shown in Now ENSO varies 2-3 years cycle and have very strong effect on NAO, thus solar 11 year cycle may not show very strong impact on weather pattern in UK when considered alone. In one/two particular year there may be coincidence. The phase of ENSO also need to account. Year 2010 was very strong El Nino year.

.Now consider the time series of NAO during winter say before 40 years. Almost all the solar min years in DJF are seen wih +ve phase of NAO. Thus it was warm UK in solar min.

Mithu, Barnet
Saturday, 15 October 2011 - 18:30

Sun activity and cosmic rays interaction is being deeply studied by Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark. His work has been strongly attaked by CO2 "gruppies". Spain suffered a terrible drought that started exactly 22 years ago and unfortunately it seems that this winter is announcing the beggining of the next dry spell.

Jorge Perlovich, Benalmadena, Malaga Spain
Monday, 23 January 2012 - 15:40


Jorge Perlovich, Benalmadena, Malaga Spain
Thursday, 8 March 2012 - 12:56

UK National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies -2012 edition
Volcanic hazards Risk
3.25 ...There are a range of volcanoes across Europe (such as SANTORINI in the Aegean Sea) which could have consequences for the UK...
3.27 ...Significant eruptions of this type can emit gases and particles into the stratosphere, above weather systems, where they may also have subsequent CLIMATIC effects.

Solar flares tigger earthquakes
Jain, R., Physical Research Laboratory.
Each of the 682 >4.0 earthquakes under study was preceded by a solar flare of GOES importance B to X class by 10-100 hrs.

Explosive volcanic eruptions triggered by cosmic rays
Toshikazu Ebisuzaki, Hiroko Miyahara, Ryuho Kataoka, Tatsuhiko Sato, Yasuhiro Ishimine

Nature 482, 77-80 z(02 February 2012)
"If you had a big [volcanic] eruption of this sort [globally devastating], let's say in the middle of Europe today, the effects would be enormous and a few months might not be enough to get your act together."

Worldwide Lightning-rod Nets URGENTLY to save humankind from cannibalic collapse
by galactically driven, devastating quakes/volcanic winters,
as happened to Mayas, Aztecs, Incas

AVERT volcanic winters, Autarky
Friday, 20 April 2012 - 07:00

I BET (and try to LOSE) that in the next 12 months a [AVERTABLE IF we cooperate] world devastating volcanic winter will break, after one or more at least 6-7 VEI volcanic eruptions, IF we do not cooperate to AVERT them, as it is proposed with anyone of the 3 methods, here:
Explosive volcanic eruptions triggered by [DIVERTIBLE] cosmic rays
Toshikazu Ebisuzaki, Hiroko Miyahara, Ryuho Kataoka, Tatsuhiko Sato, Yasuhiro Ishimine
Let the bet be symbolic, as WORLWIDE ALERT is the most important:
If i lose, i sing a HAPPY volcano-winning song - if i "win", i hope that all humankind will have been prepared for everything! Volcano-winner vs volcano-fatalism.

AVERT volcanic winters, Autarky
Friday, 11 May 2012 - 13:31