The Walla Walla Valley was treated to a foretaste of summer this past week as afternoon high temperatures on Friday touched the 80-degree mark. A general rejoicing could be heard throughout the land, and winter-weary citizens — both young and old — welcomed the warmth like a long-lost friend, which indeed it was.
The Valley had not seen such readings since Oct. 1,
and though our 2012-13 winter was relatively mild and almost completely devoid of snow, recent April weather featuring several frosty nights and abnormally cool days made it seem as if such an event might never occur again.
The 80-degree temperatures prompted a wholesale discarding of multiple clothing layers as sun-worshippers exposed acres of pasty, white flesh that had lain hidden for months under shirts, sweaters, jackets and coats, eagerly absorbing every last langley of solar radiation with the same enthusiasm as would some cold-blooded reptile emerging from a long winter’s nap.
In the vineyard, our local grapevines were no less appreciative of the warm weather — particularly after having been rudely subjected to numerous nights during which minimum temperatures flirted shamelessly with potentially damaging subfreezing numbers.
That appreciation was expressed in an almost instantaneous and visible growth response that featured the breaking of the last of the dormant buds and the unfolding of leaves on new shoots that have just begun their year’s journey.
Unfortunately, in keeping with the Jekyll-and-Hyde demeanor of this annoyingly aberrant and schizophrenic month, the glorious warmth of Friday gave way over the weekend to an increasingly windy and cooler regime as two cold fronts from the North Pacific blew through the state in a desperate and final (we hope) attempt to reassert winter’s rule.
The second of these fronts even brought a few drops of pre-dawn rain to the Valley on Monday morning, but the most palpable effect — aside from the 15- to 20-degree temperature drop — was the gusty westerly winds resulting from the steep pressure gradient between high pressure to our west and low pressure to the east, generating winds in excess of 40 miles per hour, with occasional higher gusts during the day.
The fierce winds filled the air with dust and cascades of multicolored petals from trees in bloom that had been rudely stripped of their flowers, reminding one and all that Mother Nature — not the calendar — is the final arbiter of seasonal change, no matter how much we humans crave the soft warmth of spring.
Monday night was far too breezy to allow for the development of any seriously cold temperatures, since the air was well-mixed and the colder, denser air could not pool up as it does on calm nights. Regrettably, it does appear that tonight and early Wednesday morning will be considerably less windy. This, combined with clear skies and dry air, will allow nighttime minima to sink to freezing or slightly below in some of our more noteworthy cold spots.
The abundant wonders of Southeast Washington weather: Where else can it be 80 on an April Friday and 28 on the following Tuesday night?
In the short term, high pressure will firmly establish itself over the area for the remainder of the week with a solid warming trend that will return daytime highs to the upper 70s by Friday. It should continue through the upcoming weekend and perhaps well into next week, with sunny skies and high temperatures at 80 or above possible by next Tuesday or Wednesday.
The next chance of wetter and cooler weather does not appear likely to arrive until around May 14 or 15, giving all of us snakes and lizards ample opportunity to thaw out from tonight’s chill.
A lifelong fan of both the weather and the Baltimore Orioles, Jeff Popick is an instructor at the Center for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College and manages the school’s teaching vineyard. Send your questions and comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.