March lion may roar as front moves in

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The Walla Walla Valley was treated Friday to a taste of the coming spring as afternoon temperatures soared into the low and mid-60s – an area of the thermometer that had been sorely missed for some four months or so.

Grateful shouts of wonderment and joy rang out from one side of the Valley to the other, and the sound echoed off the nearby Blue Mountains where winter’s snows melted away in a thousand silvery cascades that eventually found their way to the Valley floor.

March is upon us — finally. Each year, when it seems as if none of us can any longer withstand even one more day of cold and darkness, it arrives like magic to restore warmth and hope to a seemingly lifeless world.

Evidence of its welcome presence is all around us, from later sunsets to the first tentative flowers of spring to the vast displays of seeds and garden tools in our local stores. And let’s not forget countless sports section articles extolling the virtues (while inflating the chances) of this year’s version of the perennially hapless Mariners.

In the vineyard, herbicide and fertilizer applications have been made in preparation for the new growing season that will arrive as it always does: with great, sudden surprise — even though we have been anticipating its coming for several months now. Though its arrival is an annual delight, there is also a certain amount of dread mixed in when the first buds begin to break and reveal the new green growth of vintage 2013.

There will be — as there is every year — concerns about spring frost and the season-long threat of powdery mildew, which must be addressed from very early on lest it get the upper hand.

As with any agricultural endeavor, the successful practice of viticulture demands both diligence and a keen weather eye. Get complacent for a day or two in the vineyard, and the potential disasters that are constantly lurking in the tenebrous shadows will leap out and bite down hard with very painful (in the wallet) consequences.

More rain would be beneficial to many of us involved in local agriculture. The new year has so far offered only scant amounts of moisture, and a decent rain would help considerably in restoring much-needed water to our soil profile. There is some hope for such an event in the near future.

A complex area of low pressure located in the Pacific was moving slowly eastward Monday toward the Pacific Northwest. An initial wave of precipitation associated with it is forecast to bring a chance of showers this afternoon and evening.

On Wednesday, the low is expected to move directly over Eastern Washington, bringing with it some very cold air aloft – down to 25 degrees below zero at the 15,000 foot elevation. This will seriously destabilize the atmosphere during the day and lead to a reasonably good chance of a thunderstorm or two for our local area — possibly accompanied by small hail and brief periods of heavy rain.

This system will linger through Wednesday night into early Thursday followed, by high pressure building in from the west that will ensure a fair and milder regime all the way through the coming weekend.

At that point, the Global Forecast System and the European model begin to bicker in a manner that would do our current Congress proud, with the former favoring a continuation of the high pressure-dominated stretch of fair weather while the latter indicates a new storm approaching the Pacific Northwest with renewed chances of precipitation on Monday.

Meanwhile, back east, a deep coastal low that has late-season nor’easter written all over it may silence the harsh rhetoric emanating from Washington, D.C., for a time. A mid-week deep blanket of heavy wet snow could pile up to a foot a more just west of our nation’s capital while bringing a short period of blessed silence to a normally noisy and noisome group of legislators whose ineffectuality is exceeded only by their usual decibel level.

Let us pray!

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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