What do falling stock and commodity market prices, political turmoil, economic stress, societal conflict, swarms of locusts and a health pandemic threat all have in common? Perhaps it is the solar cycle. Many studies in the past have correlated such extremes in human existence to solar cycles. Some believe that the issues of the day today may have more to do with biblical end times, but there is no doubt we are living in a time of extremes. This may be one of the few times in recent years that pure weather has not been making the headlines, or is it?

Most of the studies correlating solar maximum and minimums to extremes in human history have been impressive, but one must look at the data and scrutinize it very carefully, because there have been extreme conditions at other times in life. The stock market crash of 1929 occurred near the solar maximum while the solar minimum of 2008 was associated the last major bear market in the United States. Some folks also have associated the “third pandemic,” which was a third bubonic plague that impacted Europe and occurred in 1855, which was a solar minimum year. Interestingly, the “Third Pandemic” actually began in Yunnan, China, and tens of millions died around the world with losses in Europe among the greatest reported. Concern in 2008-09 over the H1N1 influenza virus was making the rounds around the world and swine flu was spreading around the world at the same time. There was also a stock market crash in the mid-1970s and the solar minimum was reached in 1976.

One of the worst hurricane seasons prior to the 2000s occurred in 1933, and it began at the solar minimum. The worst string of drought years since the start of the 20th century occurred as the solar minimum gave way to increasing solar activity from the sunspot minimum toward the maximum in the 1930s. A similar situation occurred in the 1950s with a solar minimum of 1954 associated with some of the driest years from 1952 to 1956, mimicking the 1930s.

All of these figures are interesting, but the truth of the matter is that it is difficult to create conclusive evidence that we can say precisely that certain adversities will occur during certain periods based on solar extremes. Weather is always and forever at play, and the solar cycle is one of the key driving forces behind the weather and, to some degree, socioeconomic conditions.

Current solar minimum

With that in mind and knowing that 2020 likely will be at or near the solar minimum, weather could become a greater factor in future global crop production. The world has been largely doing very well with crop production in recent years. There was a period in 2007-10 when weather around the world became a bit extreme and commodity prices soared. That, too, occurred as the solar cycle bottomed out and we began seeing increased solar activity once again. The world will be in that mode once again over the next few years.

World Weather, Inc. already is predicting an end to the excessive rain cycle that has plagued U.S. production in the past year.

The wet bias is expected to evolve into a multi-year period of less-than-usual rain. It would not be surprising to see a string of drier-than-usual years similar to the 1980s and somewhat like those of the 1930s and 1950s, but that is not an official forecast.

Often between solar minimums and solar maximums there is a significant La Niña event. La Niña events tend to remove moisture from the air in the middle latitudes while increasing tropical rains. La Niña events that last more than one year tend to have significant influence on weather patterns, creating droughts of significance sometimes in the United States and in Russia. There have been times when droughts have occurred in both areas at the same time. Many scientists are expecting the next La Niña event to be longer lasting, and it could have a big influence in driving commodity market prices higher and world grain supply lower. This meteorologist is not going to put down that idea as possible, but we will take it one growing season at a time.

In the meantime, the following snippets will keep you updated on world weather today and expectations for the coming year.

  • Australia’s worst drought since the Great Federation Drought of the late 1800s and early 1900s has eased this summer in Queensland, where significant rain has occurred to ease more than four years of dryness. Other areas in Australia have seen some showers and thunderstorms but not nearly enough rain to completely end the drought. A La Niña event in late 2020 and 2021 could bring more rain to eastern Australia. The outlook for southern Australia is for more rain this fall and planting for wheat, barley and canola should improve.
  • Drought is taking wheat production down in Morocco and northwestern Algeria and the outlook is not looking favorable for big improvements.
  • Spain and Portugal dried out in February but had not become too dry — at least not yet. March will be a little wetter month, but forecasters are not convinced rainfall will get back to normal in March, which may influence crop production.
  • Other areas in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States are plenty moist except in parts of the lower Danube River Basin, southwestern Ukraine and especially Kazakhstan where dryness is still lingering from last summer and autumn. There is potential for improvement in soil and crop conditions in these lingering dry areas during March, but no soaking will occur.
  • China is poised for a better-than-usual start to spring crop development this year because of abundant precipitation during the winter.
  • India will have huge winter crops this year because of wetter-than-usual conditions in October, November, December and part of January.
  • Argentina experienced huge improvements in weather this summer, but has entered a dry pattern that will continue into March and could stress late double-cropped soybeans, peanuts, sorghum and late corn yields slightly.
  • Brazil is still anticipating a huge soybean crop this summer, but second-season corn output will be down due to late planting and a normal end to the monsoon.
  • U.S. weather will be too wet in the lower eastern Midwest, Delta and Tennessee River Basin this spring for normal planting. The northwestern Corn Belt will have a drier bias this spring with late season frost and freezes. Similar conditions will occur in the northern Plains and flooding in the Red River Basin of North Dakota is possible but may not come to fruition because of the drier finish to winter and start to spring. Dryness in the western and northern Plains this spring will expand across the Midwest this summer and some warmer than usual temperatures will evolve. This change will stress summer crops and leave soil moisture in decline.