Dome departs, leaves door open, lets the cold air in

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Our fine “Native American” summer weather has regrettably come to an end. Despite our fervent wishes to the contrary, the calendar has advanced to the very end of the month, and with its final days slipping away from us, so too has any illusion that we might stave off the imminent rigors of the coming season indefinitely simply by dint of our collective will alone. The song says “the wheel is turning, you can’t slow down,” and another click forward on its gnarled-tooth rim has brought us to the conclusion of yet another grape vintage. Those who choose to leave grapes on the vine until Halloween or beyond will almost certainly have the devil to pay for their bad judgment.

Thanks to an amazingly large and resilient dome of high pressure parked just off the Pacific Northwest coast for the better part of October, storms have ridden up and over its protective shield and down into the northern Plains and Midwest, leaving almost all of Washington high and dry. The high retrograded back to the west this past weekend just enough to allow a cold front originating well up in western Canada to plunge southward through British Columbia and into our state with some much colder air driven by breezy northerly winds. There wasn’t a lot of moisture associated with this system because of its overland trajectory, so Sunday’s clouds yielded a very modest five-hundredths of an inch of rain, bringing our monthly total to a miserly one-quarter of an inch.

The recent dry conditions have obligated many viticulturists to apply a significant post-harvest irrigation to their vines in order to assist the plants in preparing for their cold-hardy dormant period. With this water, they will be able to produce the solutes they need to lower the freezing point of water contained in their tissues so that they may ward off the potentially deleterious effects of the very cold air that invariably invades our area as early as November in some years (as was so graphically demonstrated here in November 2010).

With the passage of Sunday’s front, the over-60-degree temperatures we once enjoyed have been blown away like a desiccated leaf tumbling down the street. Highs for the next several days will struggle mightily to get into the 50s, while nighttime lows — after skies clear and the winds subside — will dip down into the upper 20s and low 30s. As high pressure noses back into Southeastern Washington later in the week, some moderation of these readings can be expected, but the “flip-flop” days are now behind us. A couple of weak systems might flow through what will be a considerably less amplified ridge, but no precipitation is forecast until the coming weekend, when a somewhat stronger disturbance is forecast to bring some light precipitation to most of the state.

In the longer term, it appears as if the penultimate month of 2013 is destined to get off to a cool and soggy start as the 16-day Global Forecast System (GFS) outlook calls for periods of rain beginning early next week and lasting for several days, along with some chilly temperatures. The outlook indicates perhaps as much as an inch of rain or more by the end of the forecast period (Nov. 11-13) and the possibility that a few flakes of snow might find their way into the mix around Nov. 11 or 12, which, if true, will help us all get in the proper mood for what is to come.

Ready the hot buttered rum, the mulled wine and the battered — but not seriously bruised — wassail bowl. The holiday season is just around the corner (in case you’ve missed the Christmas commercials and store displays that have been with us since September.)

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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