Fog, ‘The Blob’ and Winter

October 15, 2015

surreal-fog-jan-maklakIn contrast to the last few days, heavy fog this Thursday morning here on California’s north coast, but the surreal blob of sun staring out of the gloom seems to indicate all this will burn off before too long.

Rain is still expected for tomorrow night and Saturday, and now cooler temperatures are supposed to be aligned along with the wet.
And we’re creeping closer to an El Niño-influenced rainy season.

(Illustration: ‘Surreal Fog,’ by Jan Maklak, found here).

Although this particular El Niño event is reportedly the strongest in decades, maybe ever, the thrust of the situation still means California’s drought will remain in place for most of the state. A lighting of the dry, maybe.
According to the NOAA this morning and the December through February weather predictions, especially for us:

The U.S. Drought Outlook shows some improvement is likely in central and southern California by the end of January, but not drought removal.
Additional statewide relief is possible during February and March.
Drought removal is likely across large parts of the Southwest, while improvement or removal is also likely in the southern Plains. However, drought is likely to persist in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, with drought development likely in Hawaii, parts of the northern Plains and in the northern Great Lakes region.

The NOAA folks also cite “other factors” contributing to the winter rain cycle, but didn’t mention a major situation just off our coast — the infamous “The Blob,” a huge swath of Pacific Ocean running from San Diego to Alaska with the top 300 feet of ocean carrying temperatures five degrees above average. The odd zone has been around three years now.
A good view of this phenomenon came yesterday from science writer Bob Henson at WunderBlog — some key points:

The most recent analyses show that the original Blob is now part of a broader east-west zone of warmer-than-normal SSTs that extends west from the Aleutians to the Washington/British Columbia coast.
Another zone of even greater warm anomalies runs across the subtropical Pacific from near Hawaii to the California/Mexico coast. Thirdly, along the equator, warmer-than-average SSTs prevail from the International Data Line to the South American coast.
El Niño is clearly responsible for the band of equatorial warmth, and at least some of the subtropical warmth, which has fueled record-smashing hurricane activity across the Central Pacific.
As for the higher-latitude Blob, that’s another matter.

Bond noted that any prolonging of the unusual oceanic warmth off the West Coast could have major impacts on native marine ecosystems.
Many marine species shift north with El Niño and south with La Niña, but those events typically last just a year or two; the Ridge and Blob have now been in place for more than two years.
In breadth and strength, the warming in the North Pacific over the last three years has been the most prolonged since records began in 1900.
“Many species can shrug off a bad year or two, but longer runs have greater impacts,” said Bond.
“This El Niño is liable to bring some really strange changes in ocean conditions because the widespread warming of the North Pacific we saw with the blob was so far outside of our experience,” said Northwest Fisheries Science Center oceanographer Bill Peterson in a NOAA feature story this month.
“When you put an El Niño on top of that it is anyone’s guess as to how this will affect marine organisms.”

Or even with our winter weather. Possible insight from yesterday’s Discover Magazine:

There’s another reason to be just a tad queasy as well: For much of 2015, the Pacific Ocean hasn’t looked like anything seen during previous El Niño episodes. In addition to Godzilla lurking along the equator, we’ve also had “The Blob” — a huge and dynamic pool of extraordinarily warm surface water that’s now sitting in south of Alaska.
And now we also have an even toastier gigantic patch of warm water in the subtropics, extending from Hawaii to North America. Let’s call this “Son of Blob.”

Atmospheric scientist David Parsons, director of the School of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, agrees that what we’re seeing now in the Pacific is, well, dang weird: “We’re in a regime we haven’t seen before: a strong warm blob, and a strong El Niño.”
With that in mind, he jokes that “I’m delighted I don’t have to make seasonal predictions.”
His point: When conditions are unprecedented, we shouldn’t discount the possibility of surprises that defy predictions.

Bottom line: One crazy winter coming…

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