According to British academics, Ireland and the UK should brace themselves for severe winters for the coming years, as solar activity is low. Last winter, the coldest in over 45 years, gave Ireland a taste of what's to come.

A United Kingdom-based forecaster Exacta Weather has issued a severe winter weather warning for 2011 - 2012. James Madden, from Exacta, said they have been correct over the last two years. This year they predict record breaking snowfall and freezing temperatures once again.

Madden said that as well as the lower solar activity, the dust and ash particles released by the recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Chile would also contribute to cooling down of global temperatures.  He said, “Converted sulfur dioxide emissions from volcanic eruptions can also cause sunlight reflection in the atmosphere. “

He said the 2011-2012 winter "will be exceptionally cold and snowy with well below average temperatures.  I fully expect to see records broken with the highlands of Scotland being once again particularly hard hit.  It is therefore vital to start preparing now in terms of high energy bills and raising awareness amongst the most vulnerable and elderly people of society."

Research published in the journal "Environmental Research Letters" shows that cold winters in the United Kingdom and Ireland are more common when the sun's activity is low.

The researchers have measured temperatures during the recent winters. Their findings show that it has been markedly cooler than the long term average temperature. They used the Central England Temperature (CET) record, which dates back to mid-17th century to examine their findings.

Co-author Mike Lockwood, professor of space environment physics at the University of Reading, wrote about solar activity and its impact on the climate.

He wrote that, “Solar activity during the current sunspot minimum has fallen to levels unknown since the start of the 20th century. The Maunder minimum (about 1650–1700) was a prolonged episode of low solar activity which coincided with more severe winters in the United Kingdom and continental Europe. Motivated by recent relatively cold winters in the UK, we investigate the possible connection with solar activity,” according to reports on Irish Weather Online.

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The report states, "The mean CET for December, January and February for the recent relatively cold winters of 2008/09 and 2009/10 were 3.50C and 2.53C respectively. Whereas the mean value for the previous 20 winters had been 5.04C. The cluster of lower winter temperatures in the UK during the last three years had raised questions about the probability of more similar, or even colder, winters occurring in the future.”

These new findings on solar activity can be added to the research from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) which states that a missing jet stream and fading spots along with slower activity near the poles show that the Sun is entering a rest period.

Currently we are in sunspot cycle, Cylce 24, and the next sunspot, which will last 11 years, is Cycle 25.

The results were announced at the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society. Dr. Frank Hill, associate director of the NSO’s Solar Synoptic Network, said, “This is highly unusual and unexpected. But the fact that three completely different views of the Sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.”

He said, “this could be the last solar maximum we’ll see for a few decades. That would affect everything from space exploration to Earth’s climate.”