Heat benefits plants, Stampede crowds, sales of Natty Boh

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Now that your weatherperson has single-handedly derailed the ill-advised Rose Street reconfiguration plan with his hard-hitting commentary in last week’s column, he has been urged by many to tackle other thorny and long-unresolved issues that continue to pester the world: Concerns such as the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa, long-standing animosities in the Middle East and the stunning inability of home plate umpires to call balls and strikes in any consistent manner — the last of which is possibly the most annoying of all.

Weather-wise, many Valley residents found themselves greatly annoyed by — and totally unprepared for — an early-season heat wave last week, with afternoon high temperatures tying or exceeding the daily records on consecutive days. This surely is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to freeze one’s keister off one week and then suffer a near-fatal case of heatstroke the next.

Friday’s reading of 93 degrees beat the old record, set in 1949, by 3 degrees. Folks in nearby Hanford couldn’t be blamed for thinking that some of that not-so-well-stored nuclear waste in town might have possibly reached critical mass that same day when their high reached a sizzling and very un-May-like 98 degrees.

Saturday’s 91 in Walla Walla tied the mark set in 1994, and a slight increase in humidity briefly transported your weatherperson back to his boyhood days in Baltimore, a town that wrote the book on weather-related discomfort. He was so hot Saturday afternoon, he was obliged to watch the Orioles game from the comfort of an ice bath, and consumed an entire twelve-pack of well-chilled Natty Boh before it became quite clear that the Orioles would not be victorious that day.

Not everyone took issue with the unseasonable hot weather. Balloonists who gathered here from far and wide for the Stampede reveled in the light winds that resulted from the sprawling dome of high pressure overhead, whose subsiding air below was in large measure responsible for the record temperatures. Recently planted tomatoes, peppers and squashes soaked up the heat with reckless abandon, and shrieking, sun-burned children skipped gaily through lawn sprinklers that were hard-pressed to keep up with the evaporative effects of the prodigious heat.

It was nearly impossible to remember that it was still only early May, with the maximum readings some 20-25 degrees above normal for this time of year. But it all came crashing down on Monday with the approach of a rather vigorous low pressure and cold front combination that swept in from the west. Its passage was marked Monday afternoon by showers and a period of gusty winds that blew in excess of 40 miles per hour at times before subsiding overnight. Nighttime readings plunged back into the low 40’s – much closer to their normal mid-May levels.

Our two mid-range forecast models are as disputatious as ever regarding the week and weekend to come. Both grudgingly agree that a weak system with a generally trough-like pattern will slide across the area on Wednesday with a slight chance of a sprinkle or two at the end of the week. The Global Forecast System pushes that east for a mostly fair and pleasant weekend, whereas the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts holds onto the trough and paints a wetter scenario for Saturday into Sunday.

Your weatherperson is normally happy to take sides in such contentious disagreements, but is going to sit this one out — at least temporarily — until his own weather Ouija board points him in the right direction. Suffice it to say, the oppressive heat is gone and not likely to return anytime soon, and for that, let us give thanks.

Looking further ahead, the 16-day outlook as of yesterday morning offered the tantalizing prospect of a so-called “million dollar rain” for the wheat folks during the eight-day period from May 21-29, with a whopping 1.62 inches of precipitation forecast over that time. Though such an amount for the end of May would be most unusual, it is not totally outside the realm of possibility.

Should that forecast come true, would it be terribly out of line to expect some modest show of gratitude (A new car? An all-expenses paid trip to Europe?) from those who will be reaping the reward from such a fortuitous event? Just wondering.

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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