Rainy spell might supplant heat

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It was a perfect weekend in the Walla Walla Valley for just about any activity — and there were certainly many of them from which to choose: Spring Release, the season opener of two farmers markets, golf or tennis. Or a quiet stroll down Rose Street in the dappled shade provided by the stately sycamores that line that thoroughfare, several of which are scheduled to be reduced to sawdust if the current nonsensical ‘realignment’ plan for the street comes to fruition.

Not to worry. As Ronald Reagan once said, “A tree’s a tree, how many more do you have to look at?”

Though Saturday proved to be a bit breezy from the steep pressure gradient between a high near the Canadian border and a low center in southern Oregon, Sunday was positively gorgeous, featuring wall-to-wall sunshine, light winds and high temperatures in the low 80s.

Contrary to the masses, your weatherperson chose to spend much of the day indoors in a supine position on the couch, out of Old Sol’s harmful rays, which have already exacted a rather nasty toll on him from his outdoor days in sun-washed Arizona and California.

In addition, his bionic knee is not yet functioning at a Steve Austin-type level, so this combination of excuses allowed him to fully (and guiltlessly) enjoy watching his beloved Baltimore Orioles dispose of the foundering, fallen Angels of Anaheim while putting the final touches on a successful 7-4 road trip, while others gardened and gamboled outside in the warm spring air.

With high pressure now firmly in command of our local weather this week, the next several days should be carbon copies of each other, with mostly sunny skies and afternoon readings topping out around 80 degrees. This regime, if the 16-day outlook has any credibility, is supposed to last through the end of the week.

Sunday afternoon’s run of the forecast model predicts a serious warm-up for the upcoming weekend, with highs forecast to reach into the unseasonably scorching mid-90s by Sunday. If true, local air conditioners will be humming as they have not done since September.

A high in the mid-90s would represent temperatures about 20 degrees above normal for this time of year, no doubt delighting those with backyard swimming pools. But the rest of us would be painfully reminded that the annual assault of relentless heat and sun known as summer is not too far off.

Though our now rapidly growing grapevines would soak up that heat with reckless abandon, those of us tending them might view an early-season heat wave as a harbinger of things to come. While sunny and warm is a great scheme for a grape-growing season, extended high heat is not nearly quite so welcome, with its heavy demands on both the vines and the people who manage them on a daily basis; nor is a superheated summer ideal for wine quality.

The most curious thing about that particular run of the 16-day forecast is the incredibly abrupt about-face it does starting May 13. According to this wacky, schizophrenic forecast, rain will arrive in our area that day and persist on and off for seven days, with a couple of heavier days of downpours contributing to the predicted final total of nearly seven-tenths of an inch. In addition, all this is accompanied by a temperature drop of some 25 degrees, with lows dipping down into the upper 30s by the morning of the May 20.

Is this vision the vengeful product of some disgruntled programmer angry at not receiving a long-anticipated promotion? Or simply more proof of the old “garbage in, garbage out” adage that we have come to know so well in the computer age?

Coming as it does towards the end of the forecast period in question, this wild scenario will no doubt undergo several major revisions before the date arrives, and perhaps will end up as nothing more than a fleeting aberration from a model that occasionally overreaches its limited predictive abilities.

A lifelong fan of both the weather and the Baltimore Orioles, Jeff Popick is an instructor at the Center for Enology and Viticulture 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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