Weather brings glorious grape harvest to close

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Your forecaster will offer the notion that his authoritatively stated but somewhat inaccurate pronouncements in last week's column actually help legitimize his nascent candidacy for public office.

After all, in this year's political cycle it appears facts have taken a back seat to the most fabulous and fictive fabrications imaginable. Willard and Paul, you know who I mean.

Indeed, it did get cooler as predicted -- about 4 or 5 degrees off the normal highs and lows for this time of year. We did receive some rain -- though not as much as indicated in this space last week. And some snow did fall in the Blues down to about 3,000 feet -- though in negligible quantities.

However, we must always be cognizant of the fact that meteorology is a notoriously inexact science -- sort of like handicapping football games. A lot of the time the predictions are spot on, but every once in a while WSU will take down Stanford or the UW will triumph over Oregon (though neither would appear very likely to occur this coming weekend), and good science will fall victim to the chaos that characterizes our universe.

It appears such local chaos -- as in a surprise freezing blast in the Valley's vineyards during harvest -- has been averted this year.

Last week was a productive one for many local grape growers who took a long, hard look at the sky and the calendar and decided that the "law of diminishing returns" was about to assert its ineluctable will. There was very little -- if anything at all -- to be gained by letting grapes hang any longer than they already had.

It has been an outstanding year for viticulture, by any measure. Large quantities of high-quality fruit have been harvested locally after two very trying years. Now, as the Great Wheel of agriculture clicks ahead another notch in the seasonal cycle, it is time to hand the baton off to those entrusted with the sacred task of transforming these glorious grapes into something even more magical that will bring much pleasure and good cheer to those that partake of it. (Note to winemakers: Don't screw it up!)

For growers and vineyard managers who haven't quite had their fill of vintage 2012, it appears there will be one final opportunity this week to bring the curtain down on this memorable season before the march toward winter obliges the recalcitrant to call it a year.

A fairly deep trough of low pressure that has been stationed just off the Pacific Northwest coast for the last several days will spin one more showery spoke of energy through Oregon and Washington today before it weakens and gives way to a flat ridge of high pressure asserts a cool, drier, northwesterly flow.

This drying trend should last until late Friday or early Saturday, when a new round of inclement weather is forecast to begin with another incoming Pacific system. If the Global Forecast System model is to be believed, the eight days beginning Oct. 27 could be quite wet.

But in view of last week's success rate, your forecaster will offer that possibility more as a suggestion than as scripture. For those contemplating a night outdoors collecting candy or soaping windows on the 31st, some sort of rain gear might be in order. We will have a much clearer picture next week on that, though. In any case, a dearth of trick-or-treaters owing to wet weather only means more Milky Ways and Mounds for your full-figured forecaster!

In the longer range, the El Niño that most meteorologists predicted would have already developed by this time seems to have at least temporarily ceased warming of eastern and central equatorial Pacific waters that is its hallmark. The currently "neutral' conditions that prevail in that part of the ocean may yet resume a progression towards an El Niño state -- or perhaps not.

Be that as it may, the latest take on the early part of the winter from the Climate Prediction Center still calls for warmer than normal temperatures and below normal precipitation for Eastern Washington.

Whether this falls into the category of fact or fiction, only time will tell. Stay tuned.

A lifelong fan of both the weather and the Baltimore Orioles, Jeff Popick is an instructor at the Enology and Viticulture Center at Walla Walla Community College and manages the school's teaching vineyard. Send your questions and comments to him at jeffrey.popick@wwcc.edu.

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