Raindrops not falling on our heads, vines

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It was a big weekend for weather news — just not locally.

Southeastern Washington’s weather continues to be influenced by a very persistent area of high pressure centered just off the coast of the Oregon-Washington border.

The clockwise circulation of this high has been forcing most incoming systems from the Pacific up and over the Evergreen State, leaving the Walla Walla Valley pretty much high and dry since the beginning of the new year. January’s rainfall was substantially below normal — about 40 percent of average — and February so far has been woefully dry.

Unfortunately, the mid-range outlooks are not terribly promising with regard to any substantial rainfall for the remainder of the month — with the 16-day Global Forecast System outlook indicating a meager six-hundredths of an inch of rain over the next 16 days in Walla Walla.

Although the most recent version of that model’s forecast has taken a surprisingly sudden turn toward wetter and colder for the last week of the month, the overall lack of precipitation is distressing news for those of us engaged in the practice of viticulture.

Grape vines need to enter their new growing season which begins April 1 with a soil profile that is full of water. Vines deprived of moisture at the beginning of their year will manifest that shortage with short, stunted shoots and grape flower clusters that will become necrotic and dry. That will have a serious impact on vine yield for the year.

If sufficient natural precipitation fails to come, vineyard managers will be obliged to begin irrigating their vines much earlier than normal, adding extra costs to their operation for the added labor and additional water.

Back east, there is no such shortage. The Northeast experienced a snowstorm of historic proportions Friday and Saturday as conditions favoring a blizzard came together in textbook-like fashion: a cold high pressure in southern Canada pumping frigid air across New England and New York and a coastal low invigorated by an influx of energy from a second low moving from west to east across the Midwest.

The coastal low blossomed into spinning vortex with hurricane-like strength with the barometer plunging to levels normally associated with a Category 2 cyclone. Relatively warm, moist air from the Atlantic was thrown back inland by winds gusting to more than 80 miles per hour, where it clashed violently with temperatures hovering in the teens and 20s. The controntation resulted in several reports of “thundersnow” embedded in some of the heavier bands pelting some parts of Long Island and Connecticut with up to 5 inches of snow per hour.

When it was all said and done by late Saturday, 11 storm-related deaths had been reported in the U.S. and Canada. Portland, Maine, had its greatest snowfall total ever (31. 9 inches) for a single event, and Boston recorded its fifth largest ever.

No such noteworthy action here — nor anything remotely approximating it except for periodic, extremely localized showers of grease of a very mysterious origin that has only recently been revealed.

Sunday dawned perfectly clear, albeit a bit frosty thanks to the protective influence of our stubborn high. A weak ripple or two in the upper atmosphere may drift over our area in the predominant north to northwest flow around the high. But any precipitation associated with those minor disturbances will be confined to the mountains, and the only local effect should be an increase in cloudiness late Tuesday into Wednesday followed by some slight warming towards the end of the week under sunnier skies as the high inches closer to our part of the state.

My kingdom for some precipitation!

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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