Insights from the UK and beyond
Are we returning to an era of Dickensian Christmases?
Paths crunching under foot, pink-cheeked children throwing snowballs, trees glistening…..the ideal of a white Christmas is almost close enough to touch (with warm gloves) this year.
Most of us in the UK have grown up with the reality of a dull, grey, mild climate accompanying the Christmas revelry. But if some scientists are right, more of the snowy stuff at yuletide may be nigh.
It’s all to do with the Sun. Our star’s activity – reflected in solar flares and sunspots – moves in an 11 year cycle. So when the sun is at ‘solar maximum’ and most active, the intense solar wind causes the famous coloured aurora borealis.
But if you’ve been to Iceland recently hoping to catch a glimpse, you will probably have been disappointed. That’s because the sun is currently at ‘solar minimum’ – the least active time in its cycle.
What’s getting astronomers in a flap is that this solar minimum has been going on for an unusually long time.
For reasons that are poorly understood, there is some evidence that there is a strong link between global temperatures and solar activity. Simplistically, when the sun is relatively inactive, temperatures on Earth drop.
If projections are right, and the next solar cycle is also weak, then we could be looking at a stretch not seen since the ‘Dalton Minimum’ in the early nineteenth century – the same time that a certain young man named Charles Dickens was growing up.
Dickens as a child lived through an extended cold snap and experienced frequent white Christmases, no doubt influencing his novels and, later, our cruelly disappointed dreams of a winter wonderland.
The period was also the last time the Thames froze over, with the ice thick enough to allow an entire frost fair to be held on its surface.
So is this all going to happen again? Well, possibly….if human-induced climate change doesn’t spoil the party. But this year at least, Ladbrokes has shortened the odds on a white Christmas in London to 7/4, close to its shortest ever price.
Let it snow……