Ground Hog versus ground fog days


Skeptical Walla Wallans were reminded last week that there continues to be a bright orb of fiery gas suspended in the sky, despite its recent reluctance to show itself.

Skies cleared following the passage of a series of disturbances that brought light amounts of rain to our area. A combination of mild southerly winds and mostly blue skies sent the thermometer soaring into uncharted territory with highs reaching the low- and mid-50s on successive days that brought local residents outdoors in droves to enjoy the unusual warmth.

Regrettably, that flirtation with spring was short-lived.

A dense, clammy fog returning Saturday that restricted maximum temperatures to the low- and mid-30s and reminded the locals that February has only just begun and that visions of verdant lawns and fragrant flowers may be a bit premature.

More hope for an early spring was provided by a certain world-renowned rodent in Pennsylvania who goes by the name of Punxsutawney Phil. Though Phil’s accuracy is not exactly commensurate with the fame he has garnered over the years, folks come from far and wide every February 2nd to see him issue his annual pronouncement concerning the remainder of winter.

Since he did not see his shadow (for only the 16th time since groundhogs started providing such predictions in 1887), spring will arrive early this year ­— although both Accuweather and the calendar dispute this particular assertion. Spring will arrive — as it always does — around March 21st , despite what Phil and his spirituous supporters say.

Not wishing to languish in the dense and dispiriting fog, your forecaster and his significant other made the journey to nearby Waitsburg.

There, the sun shone brilliantly in the bluest of skies and the Whoopemup Hollow Café was serving up the most delectable southern food this side of Baton Rouge with savory beignets, fried oysters and catfish and an almond-celery soup to die for. A lovely sun-washed stroll along the banks of the swiftly-flowing Tucannon River in Dayton helped work off some of the excess lunch calories before a return to the chill that still shrouded Walla Walla.

Blue skies or gray, warm or cold, February in the Valley means turning one’s thoughts to vineyards.

It is time to prune our grape vines — a task that will consume the better part of the next seven or eight weeks at Walla Walla Community College as first-year viticulture and enology students try their novice hands at what is the most expensive and most important operation that is performed annually in the vineyard.

Pruning is the viticulturist’s first and best opportunity to control the crop and to ensure the vine’s architecture conforms to the training system under which it has been grown. This facilitates managing the vineyard, where order and uniformity are highly desirable.

Nothing is quite as unpleasant as pruning in the cold rain or snow and the wind. Fortunately, the current 16-day outlook supplies a good measure of precipitation-free days that, while not exactly warm, appear to be at least dry.

In the near term, a weak system Tuesday could bring some light rain to the area with a potentially stronger storm slated for Thursday.

Once that disturbance has passed to the east, high pressure should build back over southeastern Washington for a return to a cool but mostly dry regime. Indeed, the second half of the 16-day outlook is completely devoid of any precipitation.

That’s welcome news for the pruners, but less so for our wheat-growing friends who would like to see some additional moisture for their crop sometime soon.

Though your weatherperson cannot hope to compete with the notoriety of Punxsutawney Phil and his over-inflated record of success, he will be happy to go bald to furry head-to-head with the rotund rodent anytime in a forecasting duel that will pit the power of science against the fantasy of folklore in a match of meteorological moxie.

May the best mammal win!

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


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in