Another warm water phenomenon adding to El Nino

- There have been numerous unusual wildlife sightings off the California coast and in San Francisco Bay of late. Some people are blaming the increased animal activity on El Nino, but something else is out there too.

Numbers out Monday show the Pacific Ocean water temperature at the equator is now running an unprecedented 5.4 degrees above normal.

Humpback whales in Monterey Bay, a great white shark hunting near Alcatraz and hammerhead sharks spotted in SoCal, and thousands of red tuna crabs from Baja washing up on San Diego beaches are just some examples.

California’s coast is alive with unusual marine life sightings and everyone wants to know what's behind it. Everyone knows El Nino brings unusually warm water to the equatorial Pacific, pumping up our winter storms.

But the warm waters stretching all the way up to Alaska, which could be fueling the spectacle of marine activity, is actually something completely separate.

"There's another phenomenon in the Pacific called the blob, which is a pool of warm water off the Gulf of Alaska that has been there for two years. And the reason for that is unknown, but it might be related to the drought," said John Chiang, a Professor of Climatology at UC Berkeley.

Professor Chiang has been watching these two phenomena that are coincidentally converging at the same time.

"People have heard warm water, El Nino, and think that the warm water must be here. But there are separate entities and only about half the time during El Nino do we see warming of normal water along the California coast," said consulting meteorologist Jan Null. "So that tells me there is a randomness in that. It's not just cause and effect."

Even though El Nino is what's on everyone's minds this winter, it might actually be the blob that could be creating the perfect storm of warm seas and weather conditions leading to more wildlife sightings.

"The warm blob had the effect on the ecosystem somewhat similar to what El Nino does," explained Chiang. "And it disrupted the food map and also less nutrients. With an upcoming El Nino, the thought would be amplified even more as a result. Humpback whales are migrating from the feeding places up in the north Pacific."

And since ocean temperatures are the engine driving our weather, forecasters are keeping a close eye on models showing all this warm water stretching up the Pacific coast.

It could mean an even more amplified El Nino, one that could rival the strongest on record from 1997.

That event led to the deaths of an estimated 20,000 people and caused almost $100 billion of damage worldwide.

"Its going to be one of the strongest on track to as big if not bigger than the other ones," said Chiang.

"Lots of confidence in the forecast community that this will continue to be a very strong event up to about January 1," said Null.

And with the addition of the warm Blob, California's coast could be in for a unique and unpredictable winter on land and at sea.

We have yet to see how this El Nino will play out. Each has its own special characteristics, a product of conditions in the ocean and atmosphere.

When you add the warm Blob to the equation this year, anything could happen and forecasters are staying on their toes. 

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