SEATTLE – It's been called "the blob," a huge pool of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific Ocean.
It was first recognized in late 2013 by Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond, who is an authority on the interaction between ocean temperatures and the atmosphere.
The blob is driving temperatures up more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit. A persistent series of high pressure systems were originally believed for creating the blob.
By the summer of 2014, the blob had helped create conditions for a record fire season. And as the blob grew along the west coast, it contributed to another record fire season, record low snowpack and record drought in 2015. With record warm temperatures in April 2016, along with a record spring runoff in mountain snowpack, it was looking like the blob wasn't letting go.
However, in mid-June there was a switch.
Today, the blob covers a region, most of the North Pacific. Sea surface temperature maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now show warm water all the way to Asia with large hot spots off Alaska, Russia, and near the Korean Peninsula. But the eastern north pacific is cooling off, with coastal waters off Washington, Oregon and much of California about a half degree Celsius cooler than normal.
"The original blob was more localized, but since then it's evolved," said Bond. "And it certainly isn't in the form that it was in a few years ago."
For summer 2016, fire season is much calmer. Temperatures on average are hovering closer to normal. Even Seattle's Seafair weekend saw a growing population of sweatshirts and jackets.
Still, Bond said the blob is having an influence on Washington and average summer temperatures are still slightly above normal. Average climate models for September, October, and November point to a return to warmer temperatures through much of the west, by a few degrees Fahrenheit.
"There are no guarantees in this business, of course," said Bond.
He expects we could see more blob events in coming decades.