Tropical phenomena affects Pacific Northwest

Pyrosomes, or sea pickles, are a clear, tropical species have started to bloom more and more off of the Oregon coast. The creatures are showing up undigested in the stomachs of dead rockfish and upsetting the balance of the ecosystem. (Courtesy photo)

Warm, not wet winter headed for the Oregon Coast

NEWPORT — Have you noticed something strange on the coast the last few years? It may be due to the combination of El Ninos, La Ninas and the Blob.

“El Nino” is the title given to a winter when the surface temperatures of the Pacific near the equator are higher than is typical, and “La Nina” is the term for when the temperatures are significantly lower than average. The two are topical phenomena, but impact global weather.

The Blob may sound like an old horror movie monster, but in reality it’s a formation of warm, low-nutrient surface waters. While the entity itself may not be familiar, residents of the central coast are likely to recognize the list of effects that it, along with the recent strange winters, have had on the west coast: the invasion of a strange, clear tropical species known as pyrosomes, a high number of dead birds washing up on the coast, low counts of many salmon species in our rivers and whales swimming into the San Francisco Bay.

Laurie Weitkamp, a salmon biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, gave a presentation on the subject at the MidCoast Watershed Council’s October meeting on Thursday, to a full room.

Weitkamp presented in three phases: explaining the extreme conditions, showing the biological response and making a few predictions for the coming winter.

The conditions are the phenomena mentioned above, but the response is significant. Some good, some bad — for example, spring 2017 saw the lowest recorded returns of steelheads and Chinook salmon ever, but an extremely high count of lamprey was seen over Wallowa dam. But, overall, Weitkamp said that things do appear to be “kind of winding down.”

Looking at the present and future, so far in 2018 it appears that the zooplankton are returning to our coast and, between weather and surface temperature patterns, Weitkamp has a winter forecast.

“The chances for an El Nino this winter are 65 to 70 percent,” said Weitkamp.

While the forecast doesn’t show a particularly strong, or high temperature, El Nino, Weitkamp commented that forecasters are not currently able to predict strength very well.

“But that (forecast) generally means we’re going to have a warm winter around here,” said Weitkamp. “Not necessarily wet, but warm.”

At the end of her talk, the council stated that a copy of Weitkamp’s slideshow presentation will be posted to their website: http://www.midcoastwatersheds.org.

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