Winter is Coming - the Solar Minimum and You Feb 22,2018

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Winter is Coming – the Solar Cycle and You


Ok, I am a big fan of Game of Thrones so personally I am happy to write this homage to the fantasy series although I REALLY WISH GEORGE RR MARTIN WOULD FINISH THE NEXT BOOK!!!!  Sorry about that lapse, let me get back on track.  This January’s cold snap in Mississippi and Louisiana really brought this topic into focus but I have been delayed in getting this article out the door. 

I might as well start with a confession that I am a Global Warming doubter.  I think Al Gore, Barack Obama and other politicians vested in making money off carbon taxing our way of life back into the stone age would call me a Global Warming denier.  When Michael Mann, the “scientist” who developed the hockey stick model of global temperatures that Al Gore famously referred to in his “An Inconvenient Truth”, suddenly says that the recent cold temperatures in the United States are signs of global warming – I am thinking the science is not “settled” and he is sounding a little desperate.  I recommend you read Mark Stein’s “Disgrace to Their Profession” for a great discussion on the Climategate e-mails and why Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph is more appropriate for lining the bottom of your bird cage or rolling into a wick to light a fire in your fireplace this winter as you heat your home (while Mikey prattles on about his imagined greenhouse gas induced run-away temperature crisis). 

But I hope you will indulge me for a few pages while I discuss why I think that we are more likely to see colder climates in the immediate future and more importantly what we as Preppers should do to prepare for this contingency.

I recently watched one of’s lecture series “How the Earth Works” by Professor Michael E Wysession Ph.D.  Dr. Wysession is a professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.  Lectures 38-41 are on factors that do affect climate such as variations in the earth’s orbit (called the Milankovitch cycles) and plate tectonics over the long term and solar cycles, ocean current fluctuations, and volcanos in the short term.  To be fair, he does mention that human activity can be tied to small changes in regional and global climates.  He is a very engaging lecturer and this is interesting stuff.  If we for a moment discount the impact of Al Gore’s Gulfstream spewing carbon into the atmosphere as he jets from conference to conference, the eleven-year solar cycle has the largest impact on our climate.  Along with volcanos, the solar cycle can be attributed to significant historical events such as the rise of the Roman Empire in a warm period 0-100 AD, the Medieval Maximum around 1000 AD which saw the rise of Western Europe out of the Dark Ages, followed by the Little Ice Age during the Maunder Minimum which devastated the population and led to a labor shortage and the development of capitalism and industrialization.

Since scientists started monitoring sun spot activity, we are at the end of Solar Cycle #24 which is expected to bottom out in 2019 or 2020.  So if you look at John Casey’s book “Dark Winter” – he is predicting that we are in for harsh winters and cool summers over the next fifteen to thirty years.  While many scientists say that a 0.1% decrease in energy output will not significantly impact on Earth’s climate, John Casey cites some studies that disagree.  Pick up a copy and see if you think he makes his case.     

Ok, but let’s get to our focus – how do we prepare for this?  In several past articles, we have talked about several ways to heat your home including passive solar design or net zero and a solar air heat exchanger (see ) or ground heat exchangers (see ) as methods to make your home more efficient.  Let’s assume you are in the process of designing your home

1-orient the home to maximize receipt of solar energy (long axis of the house is east west and south face of the home has large windows to permit sun light in).  The north face has smaller windows that permit natural light but minimize window surface area and have a lower U factor (or higher R factor) for better insulation.  Windows on the south side should have a high solar gain (permit more heat to pass in). 

2-design eaves to shade the southern side during the summer and not block sunlight into windows during the winter.

3-place heat sinks like stones where sunlight impacts on the walls and floor, the heat sink warms during the day and radiates heat throughout the evening. 

4-maximize insulation in your home (add insulation to the attic, insure good seals on doors and windows to prevent drafts).  You can add drapes and curtains to further insulate windows and walls, opening them when the sun falls on them to let heat in and closing them when the sun goes down.

5-take advantage of a ground heat exchanger to bring warmer air from underground (warmer than outside ambient air).

6-it might come down to bundling up even indoors and spooning (sharing body heat).  I am not ashamed to say that I spooned with my Ranger buddies on patrol back in January 1984.  That was a very cold year…. Hopefully your survival buddy will be someone you prefer spooning with but when you are cold – gimme a hug!

But these methods really require additional energy to keep your house warm (and prevent your pipes from freezing – which can cause pipes to burst making your home uninhabitable or simply deny you running water) especially when the sun in not shining. 

You might find that you have to close off certain areas of the house as in not heat them at all and collapse down into a small area where you live, sleep and prepare food. 

But you also need redundancy in your heating systems.  As we saw recently, the Dallas area in the cold snap had the largest demand for power they had ever experienced and they were quite proud that they did not have to institute rolling blackouts – they were able to meet all the demand.  But what if they weren’t able to meet all the demand?  If you rely solely on electricity for heat and the grid goes down (for any reason), you will need another source of heat. 

I recommend you install a wood stove – preferable Ben Franklin or pot belly or other design that has a large surface area to radiate heat into the room.  Remember we mentioned a heat sink earlier?  You want to place stone or brick behind your stove and under it.  These materials will absorb heat and radiate it back into the room as the fire dies down.  You might even consider some bed warmers, place them under the fire during the evening and transfer them under your bed when you go to sleep – heat rises and you will love it.

You can improve that heat transfer by moving air around and over the stove and the stove pipes or exhaust manifold.  We had a pot belly stove in the back room of our house (the one furthest from the furnace).  Before we installed that stove it was frigid in that room, after installation it was tanks tops and flip flops, even in the dead of winter.  That room was toasty with just a small fire going in it (but it was a small room also).

But we get to our last point that no matter what type of heating systems you have as your primary and alternate – they need to be sustainable for a longer period of time.  In the case of a year without summer (yep, they had those in 1816 after Mount Tambora erupted and again in 1863 after Krakatoa erupted) how many cords of wood would you need to heat your home (assuming a fairly well insulated 2000 sqft home)?  Lots of variables but plan on 3-5 cords for a normal winter and get more if you think you are in for a harsh winter.  Certainly don’t want to run out.  Any excess you have will continue to “season” and can be used the next year as long as you keep it dry.  And don’t forget cutting and splitting wood is hard work.  But all in all, that might help you stay warm doing the exercise.

Last comment – safety:  any open flame heating device needs to be properly vented.  You don’t want a build up of carbon monoxide to make one cold night your last one on earth.  And of course, there is the risk of fire, so insure your stove is properly installed to not ignite the rest of your home. Burning down your house puts you out in the cold for the rest of the winter.

So I hope while we wait for George RR Martin to finish Game of Thrones, at least you can stay toasty warm in the winter – whether it is a result of a solar minimum or just your regular North  American variety.


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