Weather slips toward more normal pattern

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Your fearless forecaster spent an interesting week dealing with two episodes of freezing rain that definitively put the fear of a higher being back into him.

Consecutive mornings of negotiating an ice-covered walkway on a (still) bum knee forced serious consideration of slinking out of the car and slithering like a serpent along the slippery sidewalk up to the front steps to not further damage his bionic and very expensive new joint.

Some might consider this just recompense for a weatherman who was responsible for such reprehensible weather — particularly since no mention of it was made in his previous column.

But freezing rain is one of the most difficult forecasts to make, especially so far in advance, for it takes a very specific set of atmospheric conditions to create it. Such conditions might come together for only a brief period and can change rapidly with no warning.

Warm air aloft allows the precipitation to begin in a liquid form: raindrops. If there is a shallow sub-freezing layer of air at ground level and just above — as we experienced last week when our long-standing inversion trapped a very cold pool of air near the ground — these raindrops will have no time to freeze as they fall through the cold air. Instead, they remain liquid until they hit the frozen surfaces, then solidify into a sheathing of ice that is simultaneously beautiful and extremely dangerous. Roadways, sidewalks, trees, power lines — any object that is 32 degrees or below will take on this clear-coating.

If the event is prolonged enough, the weight of the ice can wreak havoc on trees and power lines and can cause widespread electrical failures in the affected area. The potential for vehicle accidents is obviously huge, as is the danger to pedestrians who may find it virtually impossible to walk even a few very tentative steps without falling down.

Fortunately, morning temperatures rose above freezing after a few hours and the relatively thin glaze melted quickly — but not before scaring the living daylights out of your faltering forecaster.

Faltering, but never undaunted in making further prognostications.

This final week of January, as promised previously, will be mostly cloudy, damp and cool as befits this time of year. As much as he would like to offer an outlook featuring a spell of warm, sunny weather, the forecast charts and his strong sense of obligation to his faithful followers will not allow him to lie — a tact which appears lately to be becoming the rule rather than the exception in this world.

Our Walla Walla Valley, through at least Thursday, will be under the far eastern edge of a high pressure area. Storms originating in the Gulf of Alaska will ride over top of this high and down the front side into the region, bringing us intermittent bouts of inclement weather. Afterward the high should position itself more directly over southeastern Washington, thus deflecting incoming storms further off to our east.

High temperatures should reach the 40-degree mark or even a shade above — just about normal for this time of year — with lows mostly in the low 30s. Precipitation totals for the week should range between a quarter and a third of an inch.

One model, however, had indicated considerably more than that with Monday’s rain, which had prompted the Pendleton weather office to issue winter storm warnings for the Blues and the Cascades where a foot of new snow was expected.

Some drying can be expected toward the end of the week and into the coming weekend but, unfortunately, nobody is going to confuse our weather with Tucson’s or Palm Springs’ anytime soon.

Not to worry — in four short weeks or so it will be March, whose broom will sweep away winter’s gloom to make way for the spring!

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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