From unusually warm and dry in the west to a very frigid and snowy east, folks across entire North America have experienced some downright weird weather this past year.
“That blob off the west coast is an unusually large and persistent area of above-normal sea surface temperatures.that has been averaging anywhere from 2 to 4 degrees Celsius above normal over the past 1.5 years or so,” said Brett Anderson, chief meteorologist with accuweather.com.
Scientists actually began noticing something strange was brewing back in Autumn 2013 when a circular mass of water, that was about 1,000 miles across and 300 feet deep, simply wouldn’t go away as it had been expected. Now it stretches from Mexico all the way up to Alaska. And it sure has made its presence felt across the country, especially this past winter.
“Recent studies indicate that this “blob” has been caused by a persistent area of strong high pressure over the northeast Pacific and along the West Coast.,” said Anderson.
“The impact has been a warming influence across western Canada, especially B.C. and the Yukon Territory. “
This blob was the cause of much of the extreme weather Canadians saw this past winter right across the entire nation from British Columbia which had a surprising lack of snow, to record snowfall throughout Atlantic Canada . Places in New Brunswick for instance saw records fall seeing snowfall accumulations from individual back-to back storms as high as 70 cm.
Meanwhile south of the border, the blob has been blamed for a devastating drought across the state of California, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century. Conditions are so bad that state officials have implemented a 25 percent mandatory water restriction in cities, affecting some 37 million residents.
The marine ecosystem has not been spared from the blob’s effect either. Because the water temperatures experienced such drastic, long term changes, there has been fish that are following the warm waters. As a result there has been subtropical species appearing as far north as the Gulf of Alaska.
And for Canada’s west coast salmon industry, youngsters of the species that are out in the ocean will encounter unusual predators and sub-optimal feeding conditions.
In addition to blocking many of the storms that bring precipitation to western Canada, which has led to an extended period of dry weather and low snow cover, this high pressure system has created calmer sea surface conditions, which has allowed the surface water to remain unusually warm, says Anderson.
During more normal weather patterns there is more wind, which causes more waves that end up mixing some of the cold water in the deeper levels of the ocean to get mixed into the warmer surface waters, resulting in lower anomalies.
So while much attention was given to the polar vortex this past winter, this west coast blob may really end up shaping our forecast for the upcoming seasons.
“If this blob persists into the upcoming winter and El Nino reaches strong strength then odds would favour above temperatures this winter for a large portion of western Canada,” explained Anderson.
There is little doubt in the scientific community that this west coast blob will probably continue to play a significant role in forecasts, but Weather Network chief meteorologist Christopher Scott points out that while this blob is important, we should be careful not to place too much emphasis on it as it is just one factor.
“The blob is simply a piece in a bigger puzzle in which the pieces are constantly changing shape,” said Scott.
“There are multiple reasons for any given storm or weather pattern.”
The El Nino Southern Oscillation is often the biggest piece of the puzzle that describes our climate. Temperature fluctuations in the oceans, especially the Pacific, have a huge impact on global climate and weather patterns.
“The climate system is so complex that explaining ‘why’ something is the way it is comes down to a ‘chicken or egg’ question. The weather patterns affect the oceans which in turn affect the weather, and so on,” said Scott.
“Bottom line, the blob is important, but only one factor that goes into shaping our weather.