Spring marches on after moisture-impaired February

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Our gloomy and generally unremarkable February rolls on to its usual attenuated conclusion this Friday and will exit in much the same manner that it entered: on a cool and damp note. Though it would seem that it has rained or snowed almost every day of this lugubrious month, the data say otherwise. Yet another month’s worth of days will come and go in the Walla Walla Valley with below-normal precipitation, as February’s clouds yielded disappointingly little precipitation here on the Valley floor.

As of yesterday morning, just slightly over three-quarters of an inch of liquid equivalent precipitation had fallen at the airport in a month that averages a full inch more than that. Fortunately, the Evergreen State’s major mountain ranges fared considerably better in February with frequent, heavy snows in the Olympics, Cascades and Blues adding dramatically to what had been rather anemic snow packs coming into the month. Most major watersheds are now reporting normal or near-normal snow depths for this time of year.

At this point in the season, most of us are enveloped in a state of winter enervation exacerbated by a seemingly interminable string of mostly sunless days and chilly nights — a condition that is only heightened by the intensely irritating noise of countless studded tires on perfectly bare roadways and the very depressing prospect of an Aviary-less city (nice call, you myopic members of the City Council!) It is only when we arrive at this juncture that we can fully appreciate the arrival of the third month of the year and its promise of a gentler, more hopeful and benign weather regime.

Ah, but March can also be the cruelest of months here in Southeast Washington. Though day lengths are now increasing dramatically (by more than three minutes daily) with a good two and one-half hours more of daylight on March 1 as compared to Jan. 1, we are well aware of the new month’s uncanny ability to beguile us shamelessly with a tantalizing hint of spring, only to reverse course in an instant and malevolently plunge us right back into the depths of winter without so much as a scintilla of remorse.

There is considerable disagreement among the forecast models as to how this March will make its grand entrance. The current week offers a bit of a smorgasbord of weather types, with sun, rain and perhaps even a trace of snow all finding their way into the next four days. Wednesday offers the strongest possibility of any appreciable precipitation as a Pacific front lumbers across the area. Thursday and Friday should find the Walla Walla Valley between systems, with just a chance of some mountain rain or snow showers before the weather takes a more inclement turn for the weekend.

This is where the models begin to diverge. The Global Forecast System envisions the possibility of a more traditional lion-like entrance while the European model paints a more anteater-like beginning of the new month: bristly, but not really mean-spirited. The former indicates a seepage of cold, arctic air into Eastern Washington Friday night and Saturday from the northeast combining with some moisture intruding from the south and west, leading to the chance for some accumulating snow for this part of the state. The latter is considerably less bullish with the extent of the cold air intrusion and, as such, offers a scenario that does not involve any type of frozen precipitation. As occurs in all close-knit families, this sibling squabbling should continue unabated until the actual arrival of the event in question, at which time the winner will enjoy bragging rights, if only until the next internecine quarrel breaks out — which should not take long.

In the vineyard, pruning has begun for most local vineyardists, who must perform their important work regardless of the weather. Your forecaster, who in California was favored in many pruning seasons with glorious sun and T-shirt-like temperatures in which to do such labor, has now become used to a much-less-benevolent regime and considers himself quite fortunate to be pruning in anything other than a 40-mile-per-hour wind driving a 29-degree wind chill. It is only under these conditions that he begins to muse about the ultimate wisdom of his career choice and its concomitant commitment to the outdoors. But those imaginings will quickly disappear with the first 60-degree day of the new month and the sighting of the year’s first crocus or daffodil.

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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