Returns of a Cold Sun
SUNDAY JANUARY 24, 2010
Colourful Victorian writer Lady Barker, born Mary Anne Stewart in Jamaica in 1830, lived in New Zealand, England, India, South Africa, Mauritius, Australia and Trinidad. She married twice, had six sons, crossed the Atlantic 15 times, survived cholera and earthquakes in Jamaica, and was almost ship wrecked in the Indian Ocean. Lady Barker produced 18 books based on her travels and experiences. Among them were “Station Life in New Zealand” (1870) and its sequel “Station Amusements in New Zealand” (1873). Both books were based on her three-year experience of living in New Zealand in the 1860s running Steventon, a Canterbury sheep farm on the banks of the Selwyn River, with her second husband Frederick Broome.
In "Station Life in NZ" Lady Barker describes in August 1867 “snow 6 to 9 feet deep in places, 90% of lambs lost, 4 days of very severe snow falling, followed by massive flood.” After that great 1867 snowstorm, through which they lost 4,000 out of 7,000 sheep, Frederick sold his interest in Steventon and returned with Lady Barker to England in December the following year.
Travel forward 36 years now to 1903, and to another book, The Cyclopedia of NZ. We read “In the winter of 1903 the weather at Arrowtown was of a very severe type, and the temperature is said to have receded to a point 28 degrees below zero. This extreme cold resulted in the destruction of the whole of the gum trees, and a considerable number of pine trees; a loss experienced generally throughout the Lake district, where the ruin of so many groves of handsome trees very much modified the picturesque ness, not only of Arrowtown, but also of Queenstown, and the scenery on the roads in the district. In Middlemarch the winter of 1903 will long be remembered as an exceptionally cold season; the temperature registered at Middlemarch on the 17th of July of that year was 13 degrees below zero.”
In our time travel adventure let's jump forward another 36 years to 1939. As described in Tephra Magazine, June 2003 “Probably the worst storm in NZ in the last hundred years occurred during winter of 1939 when snow fell the length and breadth of the country from June through to August. On 31 July the lighthouse keeper at Cape Maria van Dieman, at the top of the North Island, reported snow falling at the lighthouse. A few days earlier it snowed in Dargaville and snow lasted on the hills behind Kaikohe for several hours. In Auckland, snow fell just before dawn 27 July sticking to clothes of people who were about such as milkmen and policemen. 5cm of snow lay on the summit of Mt Eden, Bombay Hills shone white most of the morning and in the Clevedon hills snow lasted into the afternoon and numerous snowball fights took place between people who had never seen snow before.”
Come forward another 36 years. The New Zealand Journal of Ecology 1; 81-83 states “Winter 1974 was unusually wet, winter 1975 was the coldest for many years and summer 1975-76 was wet and unusually cold”. In the previous year, a severe snowstorm in Canterbury and N Otago on 5 and 6 August 1973 had resulted in heavy losses of stock.
The next 36 years lands us in this year, and again an extra cold winter. Why these 36-year jumps? Because 36 years is the Sun's Tide, or more technically the repeatability of the same transit position of what astronomers call the Solar System Barycentre. This means that if you take the orbits of the planets of our solar system and average their centres of gravity to find out their focus, you get a shifting point that swings from one Sun's radius beyond the Sun across to one Sun's radius on the other side, crossing the centre of the Sun every 36 years. This ebbing and flowing tide of extra and less electromagnetism is regular.
The Moon, our nearest celestial neighbour, acting as one of the cosmic planets orbiting the Sun, is tuned to this tide and in turn influences weather events and tides on planet Earth as to a 36-38-year multiple, determining the repeatability of seasons and tides every 18-19 years and of droughts every 9 years. Divide that in two and we find that the Southern Oscillation Index which is close to a 4.5-yr cycle. It is now becoming widely accepted that the SOI leads to El Nino/La Nina conditions that in turn drive ocean temperatures, wind directions and climate fluctuations.
Because of the SSB it is easy to plot 36-38 yearly repeats of severe weather events. There are plenty of good examples if we choose to look for them. The 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could have been the return of either 1965’s Hurricane Betsy and/or 1969's Hurricane Camille, the worst calamities that far recorded on the Eastern Seabord, and Camille in turn was the most significant event there since the 1933 Chesapeake Bay Disaster, each a 36-yr jump. In this part of the world 2006's Cyclone Larry was 36 years after 1970's Cyclone Ada, and 2006's Cyclone Monica was 18 years (half of 36) after 1988's Cyclone Bola. In 2006 a severe Canterbury winter cold snap was possibly the revisiting of the remarkably similar 1969 winter cold snap. In 2004 the world witnessed the Asian tsunami quake. It was the biggest in the area for 36 years. In 1968 a huge earthquake had registered 8.3mag near Sumatra.
Perhaps then, this does not bode well for winter of 2010, which looks rather frighteningly like the winter of 1939 returning. Temperatures in the world are always tied to solar activity. Without solar radiation, which means heat from the Sun, the ground is not warmed. If the ground is not warmed then neither is the air above the ground, which only gets its heat from the ground below. The air cannot warm itself, and nothing in the air can warm itself (which rules out carbon dioxide) anymore than traces of impurity floating about in the sea can raise ocean temperatures. Without warmth coming from the Sun there is less evaporation, which means less likelihood of rain in the warmer seasons.
For the first half of next year a drought is on the cards for N Otago. Was there a drought 36 years ago in 1974? Many Canterbury farmers will recall that there was. How about 36 years back to 1939? The New Zealand record for a dry period still belongs to Marlborough and their 71-day dry period finishing on 19 April 1939. In 1939 the sunspot count was much less than that of warmer years like 1982, 1988, 1990-1991 and 1999-2000. The 1939 sunspot number was about a third less than for 1938, which some have already compared to 2009.
Because we are not gods we cannot guarantee future outcomes. We imagine what makes us human might be a special ability to remember, recognize patterns and use them to predict. Accordingly we collect stories of our own experiences and we are avid readers of the lives and adventures of others. From historical accounts comes an awareness of cycles. North Otago is facing a 6-month drought, with relief rains not due until next June/July. Canterbury may be into sub 5deg minimums in the middle of next February; an early descent into autumn. In some parts of the country March southwesterlies may make it the coldest March in 50 years. April may be the coldest April in half a century. In May unusual cold might burn kiwifruit vines, and hail and snow do damage to kiwifruit orchards. June brings severe frosts in Central Otago. August may see exceptional snow storms and squalls. In September Christchurch may experience the heaviest snowfall since 1945, with maximums perhaps up to 10deg below normal. October’s unusual cold means spring is slow to start. Thousands of recently shorn sheep in Hawkes Bay and Manawatu may die from cold. January 2011 could be bringing cool, cloudy and wet weather, especially to the east coast. It might not be a bad idea to prepare ourselves for next year when and if Lady Barker’s winter revisits.
© Ken Ring