Your peripatetic prognosticator finds himself during these last few days of 2013 in San Diego — the eighth largest city in the United States and home to over 1.33 million people for whom the word “winter” is an abstraction. Fair skies and high temperatures in the low 70s here have reminded your weatherperson that there are places in this country that even in the darkest days of late December remain untouched by freezing fog and an accompanying dearth of sunshine that practically guarantees a near-terminal case of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a couple of items that Walla Walla has recently offered in spades.
The surfers, sailors, students, soldiers and sun-seeking septuagenarians who comprise a large part of this city and its far-flung suburbs are the beneficiaries of one of Mother Nature’s great gifts: the continental United States’ most equable climate. The region is enjoyed by all who have come here to savor a place where the change of seasons is more of a myth than a reality, a place generally devoid of cold waves, heat spells, rain, snow, lightning, thunder, hail and most other things that give other places a real sense of who they are and where they stand, weather-wise. If you like monotony in your local meteorology, this is most certainly the place for you. For Walla Wallans who are more accustomed to experiencing four distinct seasons that are inexorably tied to neatly precise three-month cycles (December, January, February: winter; March, April, May: spring; June, July, August: summer; September, October, November: fall), it is absolutely not. Part of the charm of our delightful town is how each of these seasons segues so perfectly into the next, and before you know it, it has gone from 104 to 4 degrees in a matter of a few months.
In the spirit of fairness, the sun actually did make a fleeting cameo appearance in the Walla Walla Valley on Sunday afternoon when a bit of an easterly breeze was able to just nudge our extremely persistent fog bank off to the west for a short respite from its frigid clamminess, before the shroud descended again later that evening. While the sun was out, the mercury managed to ascend to a toasty 38 degrees — a level not seen here since late afternoon on Christmas Eve.
As we have come to expect, the responsible party for this extended period of stagnant air and rainless skies is our old friend, the high pressure system that has taken up residence off the West Coast and refuses to depart — like a visiting relative who is blissfully unaware that he or she has grossly overstayed a welcome that was only tepid, at best, in the first place. While keeping the Pacific Northwest high and dry for quite some time, it has shunted weather systems from the Pacific Ocean up and over the top of its sprawling dome into southern Canada and then dropped them into the northern Plains and the upper Midwest, where cold and snow have been a common weather feature for several weeks. Under the dome, with the weight of the atmosphere above pressing down on our region, a lack of any vertical motion in the air is the cause of the extensive fog that stubbornly refuses to yield. The lack of mixing in the air results in a stable atmosphere with cold air below at the surface and warmer air aloft.
Our own monthly rainfall stood at nine-tenths of an inch as of yesterday morning, representing a measly 40 percent of our normal December total and only adding to our ever-burgeoning annual precipitation deficit. Strolling the well-populated streets of the Gaslamp or meandering through the quaint little shops of Ocean Beach makes it somewhat more difficult to appreciate what is happening throughout much of the West. Without an imminent change in the current pattern, a drought of major proportions is shaping up for 2014 with immense implications for agriculture and recreation. Such a drought, with California at its epicenter, has not been seen in this part of the world for nearly 40 years.
There is little hope for any palpable change in the short term. The tail end of a rather weak impulse might bring a little rain to Southeast Washington today, and could even stir up the atmosphere enough to break up the infernal inversion that has held a death grip on the area for so long. But it is even more likely that the high will quickly rebuild in its wake and return us to our to our foggy condition on Wednesday.
A stronger system looming later in the week could pave the way for a real pattern change next week. However, the 16-day Global Forecast System has been careening back and forth between a wet and dry scenario like a drunken sailor on shore leave, and seems to be about as coherent as one of the Quaalude-addled characters in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” For several runs last week, it was featuring a bitterly cold and snowy forecast that now appears to have morphed into a more customary one for Walla Wallans who are increasingly weary of fog and distressingly dry weather.
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.