Prairie forecast: west mild, east cold

A weather system that shares its name with a 1958 sci-fi horror film could be sending a chill down the spine of farmers in the eastern half of the Prairies this winter.

The Blob is back.

It is the unscientific name for a large, warmer-than-usual area of the Pacific Ocean along the coast of British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska that disrupts usual winter weather patterns.

The Blob forces the Pacific jet stream to circumvent it by heading north, which in turn forces Arctic air down across the Prairies.

Dave Samuhel, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said that is going to cause an east-west divide in prairie weather.

“It’s sort of normally set up that way but I think that will be basically compounded this year with a lot of real cold air dropping southeast out of the Rockies,” he said.

Anything east of Saskatoon will be colder than normal, while mild conditions will prevail in Alberta and western Saskatchewan.

For the eastern half of the Prairies it will be a nasty winter reminiscent of 2013-14 and 2014-15, two other years when the Blob flexed its muscles.

Winter will start out not bad with a mild November, but things will take a turn for the worse in December and get downright ugly in January.

Snowfall will likely be below normal due to the cold temperatures but whatever falls from the skies is going to stick around.

“We could see a lot of storms taking shape over the Prairie provinces and reaching their peak over Eastern Canada,” said Samuhel.

But what if the Blob isn’t so blobby?

Terri Lang, meteorologist with Environment Canada, said there are reports that this year’s Blob of warm water in the Pacific Ocean isn’t very deep.

If that is the case, the Blob can quickly dissipate if churned up by storms in the Pacific Ocean, putting Blob-based winter forecasts in peril.

Environment Canada’s November-through-January forecast calls for slightly above average temperatures throughout the growing region of the Prairies.

It sees no discernable above or below pattern for precipitation because the world is in the neutral phase of the El Nino/La Nina cycle.

But there is one big caveat to the Environment Canada forecast and it is not the Blob.

“The real fly in the ointment is how warm the Arctic is,” said Lang.

“It messed with our forecast last year and it’s still warm.”

A warm Arctic Ocean unfortunately means a cold winter for the Prairies because it affects jet streams that can bring warm breezes to the region.

“That’s why we got so darn cold last year across the Prairies late in the season,” she said.

The Arctic link with precipitation isn’t as direct as it is with temperature but in general, cold air doesn’t hold much moisture, so it would tend to be a drier winter as well, said Lang.

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