Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Blob is Back

Several of you have asked about it.   Many of you are concerned.  How much of this interest is based on fear or just scientific curiosity, I can't say.   But it is back.  The Blob has regained its strength, and that will be the topic of this blog.

As many of you know from my previous blogs, the Blob is a area of warmer than normal water (sea surface temperature, SST) in the northeast Pacific, originally named by Washington State climatologist and local weather wit, Nick Bond.  The Blob originally formed in late 2013 and then has waxed and waned during the last few years.   Research by Nick Bond and others revealed that the Blob is the love child of persistent high pressure.  High pressure is associated with weaker winds that result in less mixing in the upper ocean (mixing of cold water up to the surface).  It also changes surface ocean currents.

So lets check out the current Pacific SST situation by showing you SST anomaly (difference from normal, in °C).  First, for the first week of July.   The northeast Pacific off our coast was slightly above normal, but nothing exceptional.

But fast forward to a few days ago (Sept 8) and you will notice MUCH warmer temperature over the NE Pacific.   The Blob is back.

Want a closer view?   Here is the sea surface temperature anomaly for yesterday.  Some limited areas reaching 3-4C above normal.  Water is COLDER than normal over California and southern Oregon.   This makes sense because the unusual high pressure offshore that is producing the Blob also results in enhanced northerly winds along the coast, which produces increased upwelling of cold water from below.

As I mentioned, the Blob is produced by enhanced high pressure over the northeast Pacific.  Don't believe this?  Here is the anomaly (difference from normal) for the last 3 months of 500 hPa heights (think of this as pressure  around 18,000 ft).  The red offshore indicates higher heights (pressure) than normal.  Just where the Blob is located.

Or we can look at the difference of sea level pressure from normal for June through August (see below). The bright yellow shows much higher pressure than usual.
So what is the Blob's future?    The NOAA CFSv2 model prediction of SST anomaly for October through December shows a strong Blob offshore (darker red colors).  Warm water along the East Coast are good for hurricanes, by the way.
So the Blob may have some staying power.   Its direct impact on our weather is modest (increases our temperature by 1-2F based on some model experiments I ran) and it has implications for marine life (which is outside my area of expertise).    Let me end by noting that there is no reason to believe that the Blob is associated with global warming, since it is produced by high pressure and lack of vertical mixing in the ocean.


New Weather Smartphone App, uWx

At the UW, we have developed a wonderful FREE weather app for Android smartphones that also collects pressure for use in weather forecasting. If you want to try it, please go to the Google PlayStore and download it.

Talk on Northwest Climate Surprises on September 28.

During the evening of September 28, I will be giving a talk in Seattle at UW's Kane Hall on Climate Surprise: Unexpected Impacts of Global Warming on the Pacific Northwest. You think global warming will simply bring warmer temperatures, drought, less snow, and more storms? Think again. The latest climate model simulations provide a far more nuanced prediction of what will happen here, with some of the results quite surprising. This talk is sponsored by CarbonWa and the Audubon Society To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here.


northlandfarmer said...

Interesting. Well, this could mean intriguing weather in the Northern Rockies where I live. Back in 2013/2014 when strong eastern Pacific riding lead to record breaking cold in the Midwest and Northeast, we also got an unusually large number of arctic invasion, albeit lower than normal snowfall. However, we were too far west to get the brunt of the Arctic air. I am thinking though, if this Blob is farther west than the previous one, we could get more directly hit with the inevitable arctic air invasions that this pattern will cause. Especially considering there is no El Nino to contend with this year. In 2013/2014 some areas just a few hours east of me saw 40 to 45 below zero, so maybe those temperatures will move slightly farther west this year. Of course, snowfall will inevitably be below average.

windlover said...

Please don't tell me this will mean less cold, lowland snow, and big wind storms for us! Our last few winters have been soooooo boring! I was really hoping for some crazy fall/winter weather with a neutral year :-(

kwe said...

Thanks for the Blob Blog, Cliff!

Weatherfreak said...

Thank you Cliff for your "Blob" update. I was really looking forward to a stronger La Nina and maybe even a return to a cold PDO similar to what we had back in 2007/2008. Makes for much more interesting winter weather! I agree with Windlover that one the great aspects of NW winters are big storms, wind, rain and my favorite, lowland Snow events. With a more neutral ENSO year, maybe will we will yet have some fun! Stay tuned...

Aram Attarashany said...

I really didn't need this after the Seahawks opener! My whole family was relieved when I said the blob was on its death bed. Summer was so good that our AC unit slept in the garage the whole time unlike 2015. All I can say now is "Hit the road Blob, and don't ha come back no more no more NO MORE no more!

Bruce Kay said...

Not a particularly good trend, if thats what it turns out to be, for our salmon stocks.

David Britton said...

If these warm water anomalies can go from 'very strong' to 'gone' back to 'strong' over a six month period, what is the chance they might change again in the next several months?

Dalton said...

"Let me end by noting that there is no reason to believe that the Blob is associated with global warming, since it is produced by high pressure and lack of vertical mixing in the ocean."

Failure to reject the null hypothesis (not related to global warming) does not mean the null is true. So it is inconclusive to say that global warming is the cause of the Blob, but that does not mean it is not a cause.

Just because the efficient cause of it as a local feature is probably the lack of vertical mixing, does not mean global warming plays no role. Given that the oceans have absorbed 90% of the heat associated with global warming and that this heat is necessarily absorbed at the surface it would seem that global warming is at least a material cause. This is especially true when you consider that the anomaly is defined in reference to 1981 to 2010 average. The oceans as a whole are warmer, the Blob is simply a persistent local maxima within a new warmer regime. Futhermore, we simply do not know with a lot of certainty how the oceans will respond to continued and accelerating heat inputs. It could be that this change in material conditions has increased the probability of the efficient causes (high pressure and limited mixing). Given that, it seems fairly audacious to claim that the null hypothesis of "not caused by global warming" is true. You might say we don't have evidence directly linking global warming to the local feature known as the Blob, but acknowledge that just because you don't have a smoking gun, it doesn't mean there's hasn't been a murder.

Tom said...

DB - indeed, well said. Take that dire implication of warmer-than-usual early winter weather with grain of rock salt. Seems like these climate shifts are swinging rapidly from one extreme to past neutral, anyway.

Theodore White said...

The so-called 'Blob' is due to what is happening with the jet stream flow, that is the ongoing transition from zonal to meridional wind patterns as the transition to solar-forced global cooling continues.

The Sun's weakening resonance has affected the Earth's stratopause, which is the boundary between the stratosphere and the mesosphere as the atmospheric pressure is 1/1000th of the atmospheric pressure at sea level.

Within that atmosphere of rarified air, temperatures rise above freezing; and as the frozen moisture evaporates, it later falls ‘outside the reaction zone’ where the liquid moisture is super-cooled down to the point where microscopic ice crystals build.

These ice crystals are called ‘Diamond Dust.’

Diamond dust are microscopic ice crystals about the width of a human hair. They have a hexagonal molecular structure.

With less diamond dust (ice crystals) in the Earth's polar region the Arctic warms up which all that polar air does not like. So the polar air seeks to migrate out.

Any of the ice crystals not flowing in the polar region Vortex collects into clumps and begins to migrate.

Diamond dust that is not swept up by the Polar Vortex in the arctic tends to collect into clumps in the lower atmosphere at this region which falls into the jet stream to create high-pressure blocking systems.

This is results in the 'Blob.'

The polar jet stream has been undergoing changes since 2009-2010 and these trend patterns forces the wind flow increasingly from a zonal to a meridional flow.

This is what you and everyone else are going to experience more often with the advent of the new climate regime of global cooling.

Anyway, the 'Blob' is due to the enhanced high-pressure at the northeastern Pacific because of the split-flow of the jet stream that has been taking place at this region.

It is because of diamond dust in the Earth’s stratosphere – when it escapes outside the polar vortex – it helps to create blocking highs which alters the wind patterns of the jet streams from zonal flow to split-flow, then increasingly to meridional flow.

And it is that meridional flow pattern which allows the jet stream to penetrate and transport polar air from high latitudes down into mid latitudes - closer to populations on the surface.

Know that when upper level winds are parallel, or closely parallel to the lines of latitude then the wind pattern is ‘zonal.’

But when the winds cross the latitude lines at sharp angles, the wind patterns becomes ‘meridional.’ A meridional pattern with its highly curved flow generates more vorticity does zonal flow.

The 'Blob' comes by way of the resulting and persistent high-pressure at this northeastern Pacific region.

The high pressure is a sign of the increasingly gradual split-flow that results in weaker zonal flow winds with less mixing of the upper ocean waters, even as the surface ocean currents shift.

RG said...

Au contraire, the blob connection to the persistent high is the high is associated with diminished cloudiness, it's that missing albedo that is the principal factor resulting in warming of the ocean. Leave it to climate guys and thier wind to act like people with hammers claiming everything is a nail.

Unknown said...

Got any sources for further reading?

Unknown said...

Hi Cliff,

I'm no climate expert, but I did a bit of digging and learned that the warming arctic has lead to a wobbly jet stream with more ridges and troughs.

Perhaps its the change in the jet stream that is responsible for the peesistent high pressure in the NE Pacific. If this is the case, then couldnt the blob be necessarily related to global warming?

Prof. Paul Beckworth from the University of Ottowa briefly describes said effects on the northern hem. Jet stream in this video:

Im curious what your thoughts are on this.

Cliff Mass said...

The "wobbly" jet stream idea is not true. In fact , climate simulations show the opposite...cliff

Tom Butler said...

Dang, I just laid in extra firewood and tuned my skis in anticipation of a nice snowy winter.
If I recall the weather impacts last time included drought, lack of snow, bad wildfires, and hot temperatures in the summer?

Jacques White said...

Theodore, Are there any published references on the process you describe in some detail here? Any accepted climate models developed based on this theory?

Jacques White said...

Cliff, I have to agree with Dalton. Your concluding statement seems overly certain in phrasing regarding lack of possible link beteeen the blob and global warming. Perhaps you could reference a previous post where to go into greater detail on why you believe that is true, or describe in greater detail here. The atmospheric scientist I am talking to are much less certain about the ultimate driver(s) for the current phenomenon.

RG said...

Here's a link to how 'The Blob' is really due to collapse of plankton cooling which was keeping the ocean cool, thus ocean warming is the primary effect leading to global warming not the other way around.

tbg4255 said...

Hmm... no mention of the millions of BTUs of self sustaining heat pouring into the Pacific for 2014 days now?

I wonder what that green spot next to all that red is?

I predicted this return of the blob for that very reason, I'm no climatologist but anyone with motivation and an internet connection can chart the cyclical heat pattern in the path of the Kuroshio and other primary current loops and corresponding gyres... but nope. Crickets.

Also interesting how for so long this phenomenon Didn't look like typical El Nino type conditions for the first few years and then one day... Poof. It Did.

Ryan said...

Is there a "father of the blob"? None of the info I've read about the blob talks about this ever happening before. It seems alarming that this would happen twice in three years after never happening in one hundred or more years.

Kevin L. said...

The graphics in this NY Times article ("Oceans Are Absorbing Almost All of the Globe’s Excess Heat" at show a lot of warming in the past few decades, but it is not uniform. We are not the only place in the world with unusually warm ocean water, either compared to 20th century averages or to other locations. I don't know if "global warming caused 'The Blob,'" but there is a lot of warming overall and a few places with higher than average amounts of warming.

Collin Young said...

I was hoping for a snowy winter

Bruce Kay said...

Wow. I wasn't sure the comments section could get any funnier!

tbg4255 said...

I realize you are never going to post my comments but it seems more than a little disingenuous to only tell half the truth and ignore a highly probable possibility. Like when so many said for so long this was Not El Nino Like.

“Lately this mode seems to have emerged as second to the El Niño Southern Oscillation in terms of driving the long-term variability, especially over North America,” Hartmann said. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

In a blog post last month, Hartmann focused on the more recent winter of 2014-15 and argues that, once again, the root cause was surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific.

That pattern, which also causes the blob, seems to have become stronger since about 1980 and lately has elbowed out the Pacific Decadal Oscillation to become second only to El Niño in its influence on global weather patterns.

“It’s an interesting question if that’s just natural variability happening or if there’s something changing about how the Pacific Ocean decadal variability behaves,” Hartmann said. “I don’t think we know the answer. Maybe it will go away quickly and we won’t talk about it anymore, but if it persists for a third year, then we’ll know something really unusual is going on.”

Bond says that although the blob does not seem to be caused by climate change, it has many of the same effects for West Coast weather.

-end quote

Or on the BBC docudrama the Big Blue Live, where they talk to all the low ranking people at Monterrey, and they all begrudgingly agree with the BBC presenters that... sigh.. yeah it.. uh... is El Nino like.

And Then they talk with the Founder of the Aquarium and he has the balls to actually say "No, what we are seeing is unprecedented and isn't El Nino like conditions at all." Then for some reason they don't seem to want to talk to him anymore.

Millions of tons of sea life dead across so many species and locations, the total collapse of so many stocks and now the Blob is back, as I predicted and still we pretend. Disgraceful.

Radionuclides aren't the end of life as we know it, but nor are they a myth, as we pretend in Washington State. And where there is cesium, there are others.

John Bremer said...

In the 2 September issue of Science, Theodore G. Shepherd, Dept of Meteorology, U of Reading, agrees: "It remains unclear to what extent the warming Arctic affects climate and weather extremes at lower latitudes." "The question is not whether Arctic changes are affecting mid-latitudes but rather how and by how much."

Jacques White said...

Theodore, I checked all your blog pages and they are all devoid of posts. Diamond dust or not, global cooling is not supported by current state of the art global temperature observations or models.

Jacques White said...

RG, do you have independently reviewed research articles that support your contention? I looked at the site you referenced but see little if any research or data to back your claims.

Snoqualmie Joe said...

A very interesting and disturbing story in the September Nat Geo

Nanoo Visotor said...

At the risk of adding to the comedy ...

Is blob behavior more strongly coupled to conditions in nearby water, than to
the more ephermeral atmosphere?

Several comments (eg Thomas White and Dalton) seem to consider atmospheric
activity as more important than oceanic. The relative contributions of each to
what surface dwellers experience as weather does Not seem to be particularly well
understood. Nonetheless relative mass may be suggestive: ~ 10^21 kg in the
oceans, and ~ 10^18 kg in the atmosphere.

Also, water seems to be the common denominator.

Nanoo Visotor said...

Are winds pivoting in the vicinity of the blob. An interesting view:,44.36,523/loc=-122,45.4

Jason Gasper said...

How is this different from variability that would be expected during a positive phase PDO? Does the average baseline years include a cold phase PDO?

RG said...

Clearly the 'atmospheric' guys are doing nothing more than strutting about on their turf when they suggest that the trivial mass of the atmosphere when compared to the oceans actually controls things. The oceans have not only the vastly large thermal mass but as well they have a vastly larger solar heat capture mechanism that dwarfs 'radiative' heating by orders of magnitude. The oceans are in turn a living bioengineered system that is actively maintained by its living bios, aka plankton. Plankton cooling or lack thereof reduces the climatology/warming models to the back of an envelope in its ability to describe observed ocean warming based on real measured data, not modelled data. Give a guy nothing but a hammer and he'll see the world as all nails.

John Franklin said...

Some people are at least working on ways to ascertain whether or not climate change played a role in a recent meteorological even.

"We are at a point now where it's no longer appropriate to say you can't attribute an individual event to climate change,.."

Gregoire Woore said...

I'm with you! Love a great storm and especially wild winds even though last year a windstorm blew loads of tiles off my roof! But it's nature and beyond control...