Sunspots, first observed by Galileo, normally follow an 11-year cycle. We are into a few years into (recorded) cycle number 24 but according to NASA it's looking rather underpowered. Nobody is certain exactly what the consequences will be, but one distinct possibility is a cold period; a previous low in solar activity, the Maunder minimum, is correlated with a brief Little Ice Age. Nobody really knows how this unusual solar weather pattern might interact with human-caused climate change. Previously, albeit somewhat controversially.
"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity." Dr. Richard Fisher and other sun-gazing scientists recently discussed the upcoming peak in the 11-year sunspot cycle. Due to the ever-increasing humans' reliance on electrical systems, the storm could leave a multi-billion pound damage bill and "potentially devastating" problems for governments. Constant improvements in satellite designs have assisted in bracing for a solar superstorm, an effort that comes in part by studying the impacts records of activity from past peaks in solar storms. System limits are set based on significant solar storm-triggered events in the past, though the largest magnetic storm on record was before the modern understanding of solar events. The solar storm of 1859, also known as The Carrington Event, when "telegraphs ran on electric air," was experienced around the world. [more inside]
The largest solar flare of the current solar cycle shot off the sun earlier today. After the media latched on to what was predicted to be mostly a non-event last week (probably due to a NASA article released around the same time about a super spacestorm) , it's not making as much news this time. But you should pay attention this time. This could be the best and last chance for a lot of us farther south to see some auroras before the sun dives into solar minimum, assuming all the variables line up correctly this time. I recommend watching the Solar Terrestrial Dispatch, as it is a great all around resource for solar activity and auroras that includes live data and sightings reports by the general public. Unfortunately though, no doubt as word IS spreading, that site is being hammered again and may be quite slow.