Series of systems should moisturize relatively dry winter


Winter returned to Southeast Washington this weekend in the form of snow and colder weather, but the chill was tempered considerably by the radiant heat generated by the Lombardi Trophy, which will now begin a 12-month residence in our state. The football game itself was pretty much over as soon as it began — in considerably warmer weather than anyone could have possibly imagined. (I hope the groundhog is right so that Joe Namath can get some real use out of that ridiculously large fur coat during the six weeks of winter yet to come.)

Dire predictions of frigid weather and a blizzard offered months ago by the tarot card readers at the Farmers’ Almanac fell somewhat short of reality, and, though a bit of rain did fall on the crowd in East Rutherford, N.J. (regrettably not in sufficient quantities to drown out the halftime cacophony provided by Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers), nothing could put a damper on the delirious joy of wildly ecstatic Seahawk fans who had made the long journey back East to support their conquering heroes.

For a stalwart 49er fan like your weatherperson, the outcome was about as welcome as a good case of norovirus, but Sunday afternoon’s and evening’s light snow was a soothing balm for the well-chafed feelings of disappointment and regret that still linger from the very heated encounter between the two teams in their recent NFC Championship brawl in Seattle. That snow, which continued well into Monday, was produced by a low pressure system dropping southward from British Columbia on a northerly flow aloft whose somewhat limited moisture was extracted by the lifting and cooling effects furnished by the rise in altitude presented by the Blue Mountains and their foothills.

In addition, the low entrained a batch of very cold arctic air from far northern Canada that will plunge the Walla Walla Valley and its environs back into the deep freeze for the current week as low temperatures here tumble into the single digits at night. A second low following a similar path as the first will reinforce the cold air already in place on Wednesday and Thursday, but the overland trajectory of this system means it will have very little moisture associated with it, and only a few light flurries — mostly at higher elevations — are possible as it passes to the south and east.

On Saturday and Sunday, things could get interesting as a warm front approaches our area with increasing moisture. Enough cold air will remain in place so that the precipitation with this front will begin as a period of snow before the cold air at the surface is eventually scraped away by the advancing swath of milder air, the precipitation changing over to rain.

In the longer term, the 16-day Global Forecast outlook has been touting a rather wet period for the Valley, beginning around Feb. 11 and lasting through Feb. 19, that could bring well over an inch of precipitation here should that forecast verify. If so, it would be a most welcome addition to our seasonal totals, which suffered another blow from a serious January shortfall that saw only about 35 percent of our normal rain and snow, as recorded at the airport. That wet stretch could contain both liquid and frozen precipitation as temperatures are forecast to hover right around the 32-degree mark for much of that time. If so, the beginning of grape pruning season may get off to a rather uncomfortable start as we head into the second week of the month.

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


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