ABOVE: A solar flare observed in Dec. 2006 by NOAA's GOES-13 satellite.
May 29, 2009: An international panel of experts led by NOAA and sponsored by NASA has released a new prediction for the next solar cycle. Solar Cycle 24 will peak, they say, in May 2013 with a below-average number of sunspots.
"If our prediction is correct, Solar Cycle 24 will have a peak sunspot number of 90, the lowest of any cycle since 1928 when Solar Cycle 16 peaked at 78," says panel chairman Doug Biesecker of the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center.
It is tempting to describe such a cycle as "weak" or "mild," but that could give the wrong impression.
"Even a below-average cycle is capable of producing severe space weather," points out Biesecker. "The great geomagnetic storm of 1859, for instance, occurred during a solar cycle of about the same size we’re predicting for 2013."
The complete NASA press release is here. And yes, there is a distinct possibility that the lack of sunspots may be having some impact on recent cooling trends over the arctic and much of North America. The link has not been proven, but researchers are studying a potential correlation between a dearth of sunspot activity and observed temperatures here on Earth.