Persistent Alaska warmth this fall has brought back ‘the blob.’ If it lasts, it could mean a wild winter in the Lower 48. ~ The Washington Post


Sea surface temperature anomalies highlight the expansive blob of warm water around Alaska. (earth.nullschool.net)
October 18 at 2:07 PM

Throughout early fall, Alaska has been oddly warm and pleasant. The cause of the freakishly nice weather has been massive high pressure anchored over and around the state. One of the strongest on record for fall, this sprawling dome of warm air has helped keep the usual transition to cold stunted.

Since days are still long in early fall across Alaska, the sunny September (and into October) skies have also allowed ocean temperatures in the Northeast Pacific to rise significantly, as well. This has led to a return pool of abnormally warm ocean water in the Northeast Pacific known as “the blob,” and just in time for Halloween!

But scientists are unsure whether the blob will remain a fixture or fade away. If it manages to linger into the winter, the consequences for the Lower 48 could be profound.

[NOAA winter outlook: El Niño may mean stormy conditions in the South and Eastern U.S.]

Although the blob is focused over the Northeast Pacific and the Gulf of Alaska, it has played a substantial role in the development of extreme weather patterns over the Lower 48 when it has formed in the past. Generally, it has been linked to abnormally warm and dry conditions in the West, and cold and stormy conditions in the East.

When the blob is in place, the jet stream, which both divides warm and cold air and acts as super highway for storms, tends to veer north over the top of the blob. This results in a big ridge of high pressure forming over western North America, which brings mild weather and blocks storms.

The blob’s presence was linked to the persistence and intensity of the drought in California from 2013 to 2015. It also ″was blamed for contributing to 2015 being the hottest year on record in Seattle,” according to Scott Sistek, a meteorologist with KOMO in Seattle.

As the cold air displaced by the blob has to go somewhere, it then often crashes south in the East. Remember the polar vortex intrusions during the winters of 2013-2014 and 2014-2015? The blob played a role.

So what will happen to the current iteration of the blob?

After Alaska’s stunningly sunny September, warmer-than-normal conditions have persisted into October, despite some change in the pattern, which is now delivering more in the way of clouds and precipitation.

While the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is forecasting warmer-than-normal conditions for Alaska the rest of the month, the mega-high-pressure zone feeding the blob is expected to continue to shift and break down a bit. In its wake, a stormier pattern may take over, at least for a time. This would allow the waters where the blob currently resides to begin to mix better, perhaps ultimately diminishing or even destroying it.

“How long will BLOB Jr. last? At least as long as we have persistent high pressure over the north Pacific,” wrote Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, in a blog post. At this point, “it looks like things are evolving to a pattern with less high pressure offshore, so the BLOB should weaken.”


Over the next week, weather modeling indicates high pressure will move east into Canada as low pressure moves into the region where the blob is hanging out. (Tropical Tidbits)

According to Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist in Alaska, even if high pressure persists, it may turn into a source of cold air rather than warmth given Alaska’s waning sunlight — which would weaken the blob.

Ultimately, it’s hard to say much conclusively about the blob’s fate.

The blob last showed up around this time in 2016. Back then, there was some thinking that it may lead to a new round of winter cold outbreaks in the East. That didn’t really happen, as the blob dissipated.

Blob or not, the damage has been done in Alaska, where drought persists in the coastal rain forest of the southeast, and it’s been an extraordinarily peculiar start to the cold season.

“The onset of autumn in Alaska — the wettest part of the year for south-central and southeast Alaska — has been slow to arrive by four weeks or so,” said Dave Snider of the National Weather Service forecast office in Anchorage.

Anchorage has yet to witness a freeze. Although the city could see its first freeze in about a week, that will be about 10 days to two weeks past the old record for latest, a substantial gap.

“Nome should have 20 freezes by now. This year just one,” Brettschneider said. “Anchorage should have 20 days with temperatures below 38 degrees. This year, zero. So it’s not just the lack of a freeze, it’s that everything about the air mass is exceptional and persistent.”

Another oddity? Fairbanks has yet to see any snow so far this season, the latest on record. But history shows that the lack of snow so far means little with respect to what winter will bring.

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Much like the future of the blob, the future of winter in Alaska is very much to be determined.

Brettschneider sees the potential for a perfect confluence of conditions to keep the warmth coming. Since September turned to October, a dominant feature has been a low pressure area in the Bering Sea. This is a conduit for driving relatively mild Pacific Ocean air into the state.

It’s still quite early in the cold season, even in the snowy north. For now, it’s a waiting game. Waiting for summer to finally end, and waiting to see what winter might bring. It won’t only have implications for Alaska, but for all of us.

Japan … Lisa Issenberg photos

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I asked may I take your photo, they laughed and insisted that we each sit with them for the photo. 

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“OHENRO WALKING STICKS.”

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Noguchi’s favorite stone 

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Noguchi Garden Museum

IMG_0066  ” Mantra of Light chart.  Woodblock stamps for each of the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage.”IMG_0067

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Temple phone booth

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“Shrine stickers”

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Ramen at Ofukuro (Mom’s Place), Takamatsu, Shikoku.”

San Juan Hut System makes the NYT …

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This sparse, unaltered landscape has long been a source of fascination for geologists, mainly because of its shape. Rather than charting a one-way course (as with most canyons), Unaweep, which bisects a portion of the sprawling Uncompahgre Plateau, instead flows out in two directions, with an elevated hump in the middle, like a hose with two openings.

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This makes it ideal for road bikers, who see the bare, winding roads of Unaweep, and nearby Grand Junction, as an irresistible challenge. Since the 1970s, bike enthusiasts have latched onto Mesa County for its rich supply of trails. Just outside town, the Colorado National Monument makes for one of the most spectacular, high-altitude rides in America. (The 1985 Kevin Costner film, “American Flyers,” was filmed here.)

 

It is the latest project by the founders of the San Juan Hut System, which launched in 1987 with a set of five huts on the north face of the Sneffels Range in Colorado. Originally meant as an easy-to-navigate route for intrepid skiers, the DIY appeal of the huts soon expanded to bikers, who take over those same trails in the summer months. Today, the system commands a total of 16 huts, spread over hundreds of square miles inside Uncompahgre National Forest.

One of the few signs of life can be found at the Bedrock General Store, looking like a time capsule out of the 1910’s and which made an appearance in “Thelma and Louise.” Credit Caine Delacy for The New York Times

In May, just after this new trail officially opened, I was one of the first bikers to attempt this challenging route, accompanied by my friend, Joe, who bailed halfway through the first day. (More on that later.)

The remoteness of the trail is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, there are razor-sharp mesas and ghostly valleys, making for unforgettable scenery. But this being rural Colorado, the weather can be unpredictable. Heat makes the trail brutally uncomfortable in summer; the snow and ice make it impassable in winter. As a result, it’s only open for two months a year — May and October.

“These canyons are rough, desolate, harsh,” explained Zebulon Miracle, a geologist who leads dinosaur walks for guests at the Gateway Canyons Resort, an unexpected luxury outpost in the middle of the red rock peaks, 53 miles from Grand Junction.

For bikers, all roads lead to Moab

But if humans have survived in these parts for a couple thousand years, then I should be able to manage for a couple days, right? And it’s not like I’d be camping out in the wilderness. Two huts, installed along the trail roughly 50 miles apart, would provide overnight shelter for the three-day, two-night journey. They are basic cabins, built of plywood, and furnished with bunk beds and a propane tank stove.

Best of all, they are fully stocked with food: bacon, eggs, tortillas, onions, canned food (beans, salsa, tuna fish), cheese, salami sticks, cookies, different kinds of dried fruit, coffee, tea and plenty of water. There’s even a cookbook to show how to make elaborate meals like curry or chicken parm. (We booked our huts three months in advance of our trip, on the San Juan Huts website: sanjuanhuts.com/gravel-grinder-tour-of-the-canyons.)

Heading up the first climb of Unaweep Canyon on Highway 141Credit Caine Delacy for The New York Times

The cost for two nights was $199. (The “beer option” costs an additional $30 per person.)

Ahead of this trip, I had spoken with Kelly Ryan, a former ski patrol and the daughter of Joe Ryan, who founded the San Juan Huts Systemin 1987. According to Ms. Ryan, the Grand Junction-Moab route, though challenging, is “beginner friendly.” While this tour involves long days, the terrain itself is nothing a newbie — even someone who’s never been on an overnight cycling trip — can’t handle, she said. Plus, the relative absence of cars on this route makes things more manageable. Typically, busy highways represent a hazard for road biking. “You’re more likely to get hurt mountain biking, but you’re more likely to die road biking,” Ms. Ryan said.

This didn’t exactly inspire confidence, but then again, this wasn’t a road biking trip, per se. The route is split between old paved highways and sections of dirt, and because of that, the route is technically classified as a gravel grinder tour.

Gravel grinding, once popular in the 70s and 80s, is essentially off-road road biking, and it’s enjoying a resurgence lately. Shops like SloHi in Denver Rapha in Boulder are now renting gravel grinders and hosting group rides.

While mountain biking is often seen as too dangerous, and road biking has a reputation for being a little dull, gravel grinders offer a middle way. Their tires are thick, but more pressurized than mountain bikes, and they are more stable in their frames. Ms. Ryan called them the “Swiss Army knife of the bike world” — not as clunky as a mountain bike, but not skittish and thin like road bikes.

Two huts, installed along the trail roughly 50 miles apart, provide overnight shelter for the three-day, two-night journey. They are basic cabins, built of plywood, and furnished with bunk beds and a propane tank stoveCredit Caine Delacy for The New York Times

On a route like this, which involves long distances and rolling landscape on some unpaved roads, a gravel grinder can really shine. I opted to rent a Moots Routt 45 from a nearby Grand Junction vendor.

We were set to go.

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