Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Blob Strengthens

It is a story worthy of a 50's science fiction movie.   A strange phenomenon brings danger and fear to society.  Without warning, it disappears.  But then, unexpectedly it returns to an anxiety ridden population.

But this time it is not science fiction.  It is not a story.  It is real.  The BLOB has returned.  Naming it is easy:  THE SON OF BLOB.

The original BLOB, named by Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond, formed the previous winter (2013-2014).   The BLOB was defined as a persistent region of anomalously warm water in the northeast Pacific.  With the air reaching the Northwest generally passing over the BLOB, the result was warmer than normal temperatures.

A good way to follow the development of this fiendish climate anomaly is to view maps of sea surface temperature  (SST) anomalies (differences between the actual temperatures and normal conditions).   Below and to the left, you see SST anomalies averaged over a week, one year ago.   The blood red color of the BLOB is apparent over the NE Pacific.   But by the beginning of November, the BLOB had weakened, while warm water developed along the coast.  Such a pattern is reminiscent of El Nino conditions...and in fact, El Nino was strengthening.

By February, the warm water was strengthening and extending westward. Enough to bring fear and concern (left panel below).  And by the first week of this month, the BLOB seems to have returned, and with it, its evil twin, El Nino, indicated by the warm waters in the eastern tropical Pacific.  Now we have a problem.  Note that the temperatures in the BLOB are 2-3 C (roughly 4-5F) above normal.

 The effects of the BLOB have become more than a little evident to everyone living in our region.  Temperatures are way above normal because of the warming effects of the is hard for our minimum temperatures to fall much below the ocean temperatures this time of the year.  Want to see evidence of this?   Here are the surface air temperatures at Seattle Tacoma Airport for the last 4 weeks, with the average highs and lows shown.   We have been warmer than normal, with minimum temperatures consistently 3-4F above normal.  An accident?  Or the BLOB?

Our seasonal weather models know all about the warm sea surface temperatures associated with the BLOB.  What do you think they are predicting for this summer?  Let me show you the latest seasonal forecast from the NOAA Climate Forecast System forecast.    Warmer than normal along the West Coast by 1-2C (2-4F).
The BLOB itself is not an independent player.  It has been forced by an anomalous atmospheric circulation, including anomalous high pressure (ridging) centered north of our region (see map showing the height (pressure) anomalies (difference from normal) at 500 hPa (about 18,000ft) for the last 30 days.  Yellow indicates higher heights than normal.

So get out your shorts, secure an extra fan, the BLOB is back and its not going anywhere soon.

 PS:  There WAS a movie Son of Blob and you will never guess who directed it (to his eternal embarrassment).  Larry Hagman of Dallas and I Dream of Genie Fame.


Joseph Ratliff said...

So, in the climate sciences, when does an area of warmer water, and the ridging etc... stop being called "anomalous" and start being called a "trend."

Are there criteria?

hidden wave said...

As a snowboard shop owner here in Washington, should I be worried that we will have a repeat of the persistent ridge we experienced last winter?

Cliff Mass said...

When there is a long-term increase or decline of an anomaly, over decades, then we can start to talk about a trend. There are distinct statistical tools we use to do this and for calculating statistical significance of such trends.....cliff

Dave Steckler said...

My wife and I have spent our entire adult lives in the Seattle area, and the past few years as our kids have started flying the nest we've had a fun time planning our post-rain-soaked existence as (at a minimum) snowbirds and (at a maximum) leaving Seattle completely. The gray and rain really started getting to us over the recent past, in spite of the natural beauty and other benefits of living in this area.

This year, though, Blob-influenced winter and spring threw a serious monkey wrench into our thought processes. The sunshine/rain ratio over the last 8 (ish) months has been just about perfect.

We've even started anthropomorphizing the weather as a lover worried it's partner is about to leave them for someone hotter. The Blob is, apparently, the Seattle-Weather version of flowers, chocolate and Don't-Leave-Me-I-Promise-I'll-Change pleas.

Mark said...

According to NOAA and the IPCC, the trend is gradually rising average ocean Sea Surface Temperatures (SST). When I swim in an unheated pool or shallow lake exposed to sunlight, I encounter warm spots and cold spots. SST exhibit a similar pattern of warm and cold spots (See Cliff's maps). NOAA has averaged these warm and cold SSTs over several decades clearly demonstrating a warming trend.

The warm blob off Washington's coast is part of the global warming trend. In the near future, our 'warm blob' will be replaced by cooler waters but like whack-a-mole other warm blobs will appear. Ocean SST will not rise linearly across the entire globe but rather in a mix of warm and cool 'blobs' separated by near average SST.

Some American politicians receive large amounts of campaign donations from the oil, gas and coal industries (completely legal). Many of their supporters work in the fossil fuel industry. A significant portion of their state's tax base comes from the fossil fuel industry. These politician and their supporters form the core of global warming skeptics. Their political base believes their politicians not science.

Dr. Willie Soon received about 1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry to support his climate work and Senator Inhofe has received about 1.8 million in campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry.

Eventually, the oil industry like the whale oil industry will collapse. What will be it's legacy? The end of the Quaternary glaciation?

Joseph Ratliff said...

Thank you for your reply Professor Mass. I appreciate it.

Scott said...

Hi Cliff,
Since we had close to normal precipitation this winter, is there an elevation at which we have about normal snowpack? Certainly it was not normal at 3,000 ft or 4,000 ft or even 5,000 and maybe not even 6,000 ft. But we can look up to 14,000 ft in at least one location. Has anybody looked or modeled at what elevation the normal snowpack begins? Thanks. Scott

AnneScott said...

I guess we can expect a carbon copy of the weather we had last year. A hot summer,wet Fall (we did have a wet Fall last year as well as 2009 another El Nino year) and an overall dry winter interspersed with a few warm atmospheric river events. Thats a typical El Nino pattern and combine this with the blob it can't be good news for skiers and boarders. I guess a stormy Fall might decimate the blob but than we still have El Nino to contend with.

Bill Wise said...


Following R2AK (the Race to Alaska)... these boats are seeing unprecidented wind conditions on their way north. Busted masts, busted boats, and some incredibly capable crews fighting through this on their way north. Tonight in Port Townsend, witnessing some very high gusts and heavy winds as well.

Is this also from the Blob?

Scares me, when I thin how little rain we have been getting. I hike a lot and conditions are getting unseasonably dry. Streams and rivers are at record lows - the Big Quil, the Elwha, the Dungeoness... all very low

All this to pose the question, "are we looking at some possibly very dangerous fire conditions this summer? I'm planning on hiking a portion of the Washington PCT (400 miles and 30 days starting July 6th) - things are really weird right now.

Wondering if I'm just overreacting or if I should really be concerned.


Matt Crissman said...

As just a 2-month Seattle resident who spent 40 years on the East coast near Philly - I'm really trying to get a grip on how often the forecast around here changes. Not just a degree or two - but HUGE variances. And I thought being the amateur weatherman for everyone in Delaware was tough!

For instance - two days ago, next Monday was supposed to be Cloudy and upper 60's. Fast forward to today, it's now going to be Sunny and 80!

When we moved out here, all our friends laughed how we'd have so much rain (the ole' stereotype) - and I think we've had about 1" total since we've been here. LOL.

wynneforplants said...

more details on The Blob at Combined 'old normal' (pacific oscillations) and 'new normal' (much higher arctic and ocean temps) doubtless contribute (this ain't an either/or thing). All those who Just Love and Applaud the warmer, drier weather here should rejoice. Stay here and maybe you can soon experience what sunny CA people, fish, trees, ag, etc have been 'loving' the past few years. (for many of us, that's bad -- not good -- luck)

Rod said...

Hi Cliff,

Since May the first, less than an inch of rain in West Seattle. Comments?


Placeholder said...

As just a 2-month Seattle resident who spent 40 years on the East coast near Philly - I'm really trying to get a grip on how often the forecast around here changes. Not just a degree or two - but HUGE variances.

The Eastern image of the Pacific NW's weather is very inaccurate. This part of the country doesn't have the same temperature swings as other parts of the U.S., at least at sea level west of the Cascades, but there is tremendous normal variation in regional weather, especially if you consider that the term "Pacific Northwest" can fairly be said to include all of the territory north of the Bay Area of California, and to the eastern borders of WA State and Oregon.

I highly recommend Cliff's book, The Weather of the Pacific Northwest. I bought it and read it without knowing who Cliff Mass is. It's a good read. The Cascades get more snow than anywhere else in the Lower 48 -- by far -- and probably more than most of Alaska too. SE Oregon has a long record of weather and climactic extremes.

If there's anywhere in America with wider variation in weather than Lake, Harney, and Malheur counties -- together almost 30,000 square miles, roughly the size of Maine -- I'm not aware of it. There are many reports through the years of days in those places that began with snowstorms and reached 90+ degrees within six or seven hours. Lakes and rivers have dried up for short, medium, and long periods of time, then abruptly shifted to deluge conditions, and back.

The latter -- or close to it -- has happened in Hsrney and Malheur within this decade. In 2011, the Silvies River was so high that locals were worried that the levees would be burst. The following year was so dry that 600,000 acres burned. In 2013, another 300,000 acres burned all the way down to bare dirt. 2014 was dry. This spring, the skies opened up.

In 2013, we were in Malheur County in July, on a 105-degree day. Six months later, it was -30 in Burns, the biggest town in neighboring Harney County (itself the size of Massachusetts). 40 miles away, and still in the same county, it was below -40. Twickenham, an unincorporated area of Wheeler County, Oregon, in the north-central part of the state, regularly swings between 100+ in summer and -40 in winter. Not to mention the flash floods that twice wiped out the town of Mitchell in the same county.

Many an unwary traveler has met his or her final end after taking the Pacific NW's "benign" climate for granted, and that includes on the "warm" side west of the Cascades. This region's weather and climate is not to be trifled with. This is a far less predictable part of the country than modt people realize.

joanne said...

i live in port townsend and the winds were so fierce. where can i find advance warnings? i had no idea these were coming. what's the best source for online forecasts? many thanks!

John Lyman said...

I've lived in various locations around Puget Sound for 50+ years. The last couple of years certainly have been near the top of my personal list for unusually warm/dry summers and non-existent winters. I think there were periods during the mid-late 80's and mid-late 90's where we had the same climate pattern and they were top contenders. It's mid-June now and seems like mid-late July. I'm not making any claims yet, but I won't be surprised if this summer (and next winter) take top spot on my list for the title of most unusual.

Stay cool!

Placeholder said...

My definition of a hot summer in Seattle is when I need to put air conditioners in the windows. I haven't needed to do that for quite a while. And I remember traveling out here in the mid-'80s before I became a resident and wondering what the whole rainy winter stuff was about. People assured me at the same that Seattle winters were ordinarily quite wet and gloomy. They were right.