Rain, crocuses and daffodils appearin Valley forecast

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The shortest month of the year has come and practically gone, and with it — in all likelihood — the worst of our winter weather.

Snowfall this year was virtually non-existent here on the Valley floor. Is it an aberration or a sign of things to come as we move into the brave new world of climate change?

March will be here soon enough, and such questions will necessarily defer to more immediately pressing issues like backyard cleanup, where to go for a spring vacation and how to deal with yet another birthday.

The Walla Walla Valley finally did receive some much-needed rain last week as a rather potent system originating in the Gulf of Alaska brought generous amounts of mountain snow and some welcome low-elevation wetness to Eastern Washington on Friday.

About one-quarter inch of rain was recorded at Walla Walla Regional Airport. While not exactly a downpour of biblical proportions, it did provide needed moisture for our various local agricultural endeavors while signaling a pattern change that could bring at least two more systems into our area this week to augment last week’s precipitation.

Weak high pressure built over our region this past weekend in the wake of Friday’s storm, allowing for a dry — if not exactly warm — weekend. Mostly fair skies permitted many of us to notice that our days are indeed becoming longer as we turn the corner into springtime.

And a cursory look around the garden revealed several harbingers of the impending season, with crocuses and daffodils eagerly pushing out of the ground for a better look at what awaits them.

Increasing clouds late Sunday foretold of the initial wet impulse that traversed the Valley on Monday with a decent slap of rain and wind. Skies will clear today as this system hustles off to the east and a ridge of high pressure temporarily takes its place until Wednesday, when a weaker impulse is slated to bring a renewed chance of showers here in town and a bit more snow to the mountains.

That will be followed quickly by another weak ridge for a generally fair Thursday, which will feature increasing clouds and a chance of more showers at night.

This pattern of fairly rapidly alternating fair and inclement periods is known in weather parlance as a “progressive” pattern, in which systems move from west to east at a good clip without lingering too long over any one area.

Temperatures should become somewhat milder as the week unfolds under a southerly flow that could find us hovering near the 60-degree mark for the coming weekend, which many of us — along with the crocuses and daffodils — would welcome with open arms. Such readings would be about 6 or 7 degrees above normal for this time of year.

Winter may not be over just yet, but it is definitely on the run. Our 53-year average Walla Walla snowfall for March is 1.1 inches, so more of the white stuff is not entirely out of the question. But the chances of your weatherperson having a ‘white birthday’ appear to be about the same as seeing $2-a-gallon gas this month.

In the vineyard, pruning continues to move smartly along as we prepare for bud break in about five weeks or so. Once that has been achieved, the 2013 growing season is officially under way, along with all the headaches that accompany new spring growth: frost, cutworms, powdery mildew and a host of other issues that are guaranteed to severely reduce the amount of hair growing on the head of every viticulturist with any vines in his charge.

In the longer term, early March appears eager to uphold its traditional leonine demeanor as the 16-day outlook paints a very wet picture from March 6 through March 11.

After that, it is hoped that something of a more lamb-like nature will be displayed in honor of the first day of spring on Wednesday March 20.

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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