Your weatherperson, in the company of his best bi- and quadrupedal friends, is treating himself to a little pre-Christmas break in the breathtakingly beautiful Methow Valley of northern Washington. Tucked into the woods just outside the mountain hamlet of Mazama sits a lovely inn where he and his charges appear to be the only guests. Six inches of pristine snow have placed a soft and silent mantle of white over the landscape, and the only sound outside is the wind occasionally rustling the pine boughs that are laden with their frosty burden.
Mazama and the neighboring Western-themed town of Winthrop jointly hold a singular honor in the annals of Washington climatology: It is here on Dec. 30, 1968, that the state recorded its all-time low temperature of minus 48 degrees — a number that is fortunately beyond the comprehension of most of us. The locals are busily planning a 45th anniversary celebration to commemorate the occasion. This might even feature a nude fat-tire snow-biking race — though it is quite possible that they may have been gently pulling the leg of a somewhat naive outsider with this bit of information.
On Saturday evening, the inn’s lodge offered a memorable dinner of perfectly cooked scallops underlaid by a bed of garbanzos, mushrooms and English peas. A couple of glasses of dry and delightfully aromatic Washington riesling provided the perfect accompaniment to a delectable meal. With this, the holiday eating season was officially underway.
While your overstuffed forecaster was cleaning his plate, Walla Wallans were enjoying the downtown Christmas parade, which had been postponed a week by the brutal cold gripping the area on its originally scheduled date. This time around, the event was favored by downright balmy temperatures in the mid-40s, as a southerly flow from an area of high pressure to our south pushed a wedge of unseasonably mild air into the Valley. The much-warmer-than-normal regime continued into Sunday as high temperatures topped out at a springlike 58 degrees — or about 15 degrees higher than normal for the date.
Our brief “spring fling” will come to a rather abrupt end on Wednesday when a sharp cold front born in Alaska marches southeastward over the state, bringing showers and much-colder readings by late in the day. Depending upon how much moisture lingers in the Valley after the cold air settles in, there might be a transition from rain to snow showers overnight Wednesday before drier air moves in to end the precipitation. Thursday will be fair but cold under the influence of high pressure behind the front, with highs restricted to the low and mid-30s. Unsettled weather could return again by Friday and into the weekend as the west and northwesterly flow aloft brings a series of fairly weak impulses through Southeastern Washington. The precipitation associated with these might initially be snow or a rain/snow mix, but by later in the weekend an influx of milder air will change that threat to all rain, with high temperatures near 40 degrees on Sunday. At this time, Christmas week appears to be generally fair and seasonably cool, so Santa should have smooth sailing as he makes his rounds on Tuesday evening — so there will be absolutely no excuse for that Lamborghini Aventador (691 hp and a $400K price tag) your weatherperson has asked for to not show up in his driveway on Wednesday morning.
In response to inquiries regarding possible damage to our local vines from the recent cold snap, it is doubtful that we have incurred any serious problems, as low temperatures were not quite cold enough. The lowest area minima were at zero or minus 1 or 2, which was about 5 degrees short of causing any real damage to our vines, which had already slipped well into dormancy prior to the event — although there were certainly a few anxious moments there on a couple of nights.
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.