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The Blob Reaches Our Shores

The “Blob” first entered the Pacific Northwest meteorological lexicon way back in 2014, when UW atmospheric sciences professor and Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond affectionately dubbed the amoebic mass of warm, sterile ocean water in the Northeast Pacific as such. Such oceanic “warm spells” had surely occurred throughout the climate record, but the 2014-2015 event was so anomalous that it needed its own scientific term. And in the spirit of hard-hitting meteorological classics such as “polar vortex and bomb cyclone,” the Blob was born.

Current sea-surface-temperature (SST) anomalies showing the “Blob” of warm water in the NE Pacific. Above-average SSTs span all the way from Haida Gwaii south to Baja California, and extend well over 1,000 miles offshore. SSTs are as much as 3-4 degrees C (5-7 degrees F) above-average off the WA/OR coasts.

Credit: NOAA/California Current IEA

But the Blob is hardly a beloved Pacific Northwest fixture. During late 2014, the Blob – which had been stationed several hundred miles off the West Coast – began to creep eastward towards our shores. The warm, sterile water associated with the Blob had devastating impacts for marine life. During late 2014, there was a massive die off Cassin’s auklets along the Washington/Oregon Coast, which feed on zooplankton and krill and were starved when the warm, nutrient-poor Blob moved into their feeding grounds. In 2015, other organisms throughout the food chain, from sea lions in California to fin whales in the Gulf of Alaska, saw increased mortality rates, and many Puget Sound salmon runs are still recovering from the effects of the 2014-2015 Blob.

The Blob isn’t just devastating for marine life. It’s devastating for Pacific NW snow lovers as well. The 2014-2015 ski season lasted a measly three weeks for Alpental just north of Snoqualmie Pass, and it’s not like those weeks featured knee-deep pillows of powder!

Since the 2014-2015 “mega-blob,” we’ve seen two other, shallower warm “Blobs” off our coast – one in the summer of 2019 and another that has developed this autumn. However, these shallower blobs have had similarly warm surface temperatures compared to the 2014-2015 Blob, and they’ve had a similar warming effect on our temperatures. The summer 2019 Blob gave the Pacific Northwest some of its warmest summer overnight low temperatures on record due to higher dewpoints and less overnight cooling for the Pacific NW, and the current Blob has done the same this autumn.