In late 2013, a massive area of abnormally warm water known as the “Blob” began to form in the Northeastern Pacific. Growing in strength throughout 2014 and persisting through 2015, it had significant impacts on the climate of the Pacific Northwest and the marine life of the Pacific Coast. The Blob was partially responsible for the recent period of record warmth throughout the Pacific Northwest, and the lack of nutrients throughout the Blob negatively affected a variety of marine creatures ranging from marine birds to salmon. Thankfully, it slowly weakened over the 2015-2016 winter, as the continuous barrage of powerful Pacific storms from one of the strongest El Niños on record eroded our Blob away. But alas, such relief was only temporary.
After a calm, tranquil summer over the open waters of the Northeastern Pacific, the Blob is back. And it is back with a vengeance. The last winter the Blob was in full force, the Pacific Northwest saw record-low snowpack and record-warm temperatures. Should we expect more of the same this winter, or will this finally be the winter we end our mini snow-drought here in the Leschi neighborhood?
As long-term residents of Seattle know, meteorologists here have trouble forecasting snow one day in advance, let alone three months. And while ocean temperatures can give us clues as to what type of weather we can expect over the next couple months, the Blob has been studied far less than other phenomena such as the periodic warming and cooling of the Tropical Pacific, respectively known as El Niño and La Niña.
The Blob helped warm us up throughout the past several years because air streaming off the Pacific into our region was warmed by its above-average sea-surface-temperatures. As 2014 progressed into 2015, the Blob migrated east toward the coast of North America, warming the Pacific Northwest more directly and setting all-time monthly temperature records for October and December 2014 and February, March, June, and July 2015. However, when the Blob first formed and the warmest sea-surface temperatures were further offshore, most areas in the Pacific Northwest did not register significantly above-normal temperatures. Right now, the center of the Blob is far offshore, and the water near the coast is actually cooler than normal due to windier-than-normal conditions and upwelling, the process by which cool, acidic, nutrient-rich water rises up from the depths to the surface.
How this winter turns out will likely depend on if the Blob decides to scooch eastward, closer to the Washington Coast, or whether it stays far out at sea. If it comes closer, expect a warm winter, with negative effects on marine life along the West Coast. If it stays further out at sea, both meteorological and biological effects in the Pacific Northwest should be much less pronounced.
Enjoy the few remaining pleasant days of autumn. By the time next month’s Leschi News comes out, we’ll be in the thick of storm season, with more rain and wind than you can shake a stick at.
Charlie Phillips, a Madrona resident, received his B.S. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Washington and works in Portland as a meteorologist forecasting wind energy along the Columbia River Gorge. Check out his weather website at weathertogether.us.