In the last few years, Lonny Sundvall has developed a peculiar morning ritual.
"The first thing I do when I get up: check the U.S. Geological Survey website for earthquakes and volcanoes. Then I check the observatories. Then I check the space weather," said Sundvall, who lives in western Oregon.
Sundvall is not a seismologist or vulcanologist. Nor does his city, Roseburg, sit on a major fault line or near a volcano. The 49-year-old warehouse worker is part of a fringe yet growing community of people who are paying close attention to writings from the ancient Mayans, which they believe predict catastrophic disasters and a major reorientation of life on earth in 2012.
"The seasons have been increasingly erratic. Migratory birds have been moving at lower altitudes. Deer have been behaving differently," said Sundvall, ticking off his observations of what he sees as nature gone awry.
Doomsday and catastrophic predictions related to the Mayan calendar, which hits a symbolic turning point in late December next year, are not new. They already permeate pop culture through films, songs and hundreds of books. But as the new year approaches, interest has spiked.
"Most people think this is about the end of the world, but I don't see it that way," said John Kehne, a Louisville, Ky.-based web developer who runs December212012.com. The site, which receives 5 million page views a month from visitors in 76 countries, has experienced dramatic growth since it was launched six years ago. With a domain name that refers to one of the dates that believers say will be a turning point for earthly life (the other is Dec. 23, 2012), it offers a compendium of articles on 2012-related signs and predictions, with pages on such topics as "earth's wobble," the "transformation of human DNA," and "galactic realignment," as well as dozens of videos on "2012 basic survival."
Kehne is a self-described "astro-theologist" who learned about 2012 prophecies in the late 1990s while reading a book on ancient American cultures and quickly developed an interest. He points to natural disasters and climate change -- including the recent earthquake in rural Virginia, October snow in New York City and the catastrophic tornado in Joplin, Mo. -- as signs of pending doom. He believes the global recession and an increasingly secular society are also signs.
"I think there is going to be some kind of change take place. Whether we witness it here on earth or not, we don't know," Kehne said.
While there are hundreds of theories behind various 2012 predictions, most are tied to the turn of the Mayan Long Count calendar. The calendar, which went out of use more than a millennium ago, was based on a set of calculations that counted the number of years since a mythical creation date of either Aug. 11 or 13, 3114 B.C. Interpretations of the exact date vary. It is written as 188.8.131.52.0 on the long count calendar. Nov. 13, 2720 B.C., is written as 184.108.40.206.0, while Feb. 16, 2325 B.C., is written as 220.127.116.11.0. Dec. 21 or 23, 2012, depending on when one begins the count, is written once again as 18.104.22.168.0.
"The Maya never said anything about the end of the world or anything about a great change in the universe on that date," noted David Stuart, a professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas at Austin. "The calendar not only continues after that date. ... It goes 70 octillion years into the future."
The current doomsday predictions are "all mostly coming out of New Age interpretations and mysticism about Mayan calendrics, which are not based on archeology, anthropology or scholarship," said Stuart, author of "The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth About 2012."
Nonetheless, people are preparing. Some are also making money. Kehne sells ads and 2012 T-shirts on his website and admits to making a small profit. Tourism packages are already selling for December 2012 vacations in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.
But the commercial prospects don't stop Kehne from taking the predictions seriously. He has built a "72-hour room," a 12-by-12 foot underground concrete bunker, where he stores food, water, cash and rifles to protect and shelter his wife and two children in case the worst happens.
"I am not scared. I think of life one day at a time," said Kehne, a Roman Catholic. Each week, he attends Mass to "pray for the strength for whatever comes."
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more