Valley weather to go with a seasonal flow

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Wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy lash a Baltimore pedestrian and thrash his umbrella as the storm approaches the coast of Maryland on Monday. Clobbering the Northeast, Sandy forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.

There is a bad news/worse news scenario this week regarding the bluster, turbulence and furor emanating from back east.

The violent tumult caused by Hurricane Sandy will wind down only slowly in the next few days and its calamitous effects may linger for weeks.

Meanwhile the gusty commotion and uproarious huffing and puffing associated with next week's election will almost certainly intensify exponentially as we approach November 6 -- and perhaps beyond, given the closeness of the presidential race.

Your forecaster, a native Marylander, is following both with great interest, and a rainy weekend here in the Walla Walla Valley afforded the perfect excuse to spend long hours on the sofa switching back and forth between the Weather Channel, CNN and the multiplicity of football and baseball games in order to keep well-informed on all fronts.

Sandy, which some in the media have cleverly dubbed "Frankenstorm," owing to its amalgam of tropical and non-tropical components, is a historic storm by any measure. Its sheer scope and intensity -- not to mention its very late-season appearance and extraordinarily unusual track -- will forever ensure it a unique place in meteorological annals. The damage from it also may easily set a new record for a natural disaster in the United States.

The toll it takes on property, commerce, transportation and infrastructure as well as the personal toll it exacts on millions of Northeasterners will take weeks to calculate. But it can be said even at this early point that our country has never experienced a storm with such far-reaching effects in our recorded history. From Maine to North Carolina and west to the Great Lakes, the disruption to daily life that it has brought with it will long be remembered and discussed by meteorologists and laymen both.

It was responsible for a record storm surge and tides, torrential rains of 10 or more inches that caused stream and river flooding, and winds gusting in excess of 90 miles per hour near its area of initial coastal impact. Inland, its effects were felt as far away as Lake Michigan, where stiff northerly winds on the storm's back side piled up 25-foot waves that inundated the south shore from Chicago to Michigan City, Ind.

Those same north winds helped drag enough cold air south out of Canada into the Appalachians that blizzard warnings were posted for parts of Virginia and West Virginia. That cold air combined with copious moisture from Sandy produced heavy, wet snow in excess of 2 feet in some of the higher elevations, with some snow falling as far south as Tennessee and South Carolina.

Locally, our weather-related issues paled in comparison to those resulting from Sandy.

A good soaking over the weekend into early Monday brought an inch of rain to Walla Walla in the 48 hours from Saturday morning to Monday morning.

The occasionally moderate to heavy rainfall accumulated in some rather daunting puddles on area roads and streets where storm drains were clogged with fallen leaves, but the resulting "flooding" was fortunately more of the nuisance variety than anything more serious.

In the vineyard, the weekend downpour may spell the end for even the most diehard grape grower as our recent wet stretch finally renders whatever small amounts of fruit may be left on the vine unusable. The difficulty of getting heavy equipment into overly muddy blocks also makes further picking problematic.

The news was not all bad with regard to the rain, however. Recently harvested vines can use a final drink of water after their long and arduous growing season, and that water will help them combat the rigors of a possible freeze as dry roots are more susceptible to damaging cold than adequately hydrated ones.

A mild, moisture-laden river of air flowing into the Pacific Northwest from the southwest off the Pacific may add to our rainfall totals today and tomorrow before weak high pressure temporarily forces the storm track north of Washington at week's end.

That storm track, however, is forecast to sag south over the coming weekend for a return to a more inclement scenario that may continue into next week - or not - according to which weather prediction model one believes.

The mild air that has raised temperatures some 10-15 degrees from last week will gradually be replaced by something more seasonal, with afternoon readings retreating into the 50s by Thursday and Friday.

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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