Dry December puts winter cap on arid year

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The long-awaited holidays have now come and gone and left your weatherperson with a mixed bag of items that leaves him somewhat less than 100 percent enthusiastic about the New Year: the nastiest cold he has had in decades; enough bills to paper the wall of his office at Walla Walla Community College; and the gift of a self-improvement book that would have been of considerably more value to this old dog had it been received 20 or 30 years ago.

As do many others, your well-intentioned forecaster compiles a short list of carefully considered resolutions every January 1 — some of which he may actually sustain for more than a week or two. There is certainly no reason in the world why he cannot wear his Baltimore Oriole snuggly to bed every night, and he fully intends to do so until the weather warms sufficiently to make such a practice sheer folly. And he will not have a bit of trouble complying with his sworn oath to refrain from twerking in front of his classes, no matter how strong the impulse to do so. Other resolutions may present more of a problem and demand an extra effort if they are to be upheld: eat fewer tacos every Thursday night at the Stone Hut, and (gulp) be more tolerant of Seahawks fans in the future. That one may have the shortest shelf life of all.

Our year-end weather was quite forgettable in its own right as December concluded on a dry note. This made it the third consecutive month of subnormal rainfall in a year that ended up as the second driest for Walla Walla since 1949, when such records began being kept here. The disturbingly obdurate high pressure system that has plagued us for weeks did cede its customary position for a few days at the beginning of the year as a cold front swept through the Walla Walla Valley, mixing out the inversion that had kept our region locked in a shroud of freezing fog and reminding us that the sun does shine here in the wintertime — albeit sporadically. Skiers and snowboarders throughout the Pacific Northwest were among the most disappointed with regard to the dearth of precipitation in the mountains this holiday season, with many areas reporting dismal snow conditions and some not opening at all for a lack of the white stuff.

The most recent long-range outlook from the Climate Prediction Center for the three-month period January through March indicates that we may expect normal to slightly below normal temperatures and normal precipitation during the next 90 days — less than promising as a remedy for our building drought, though these forecasts are notorious for their occasional lack of accuracy. Certainly there is nothing on our local horizon nearly as dramatic as the incredible cold that has afflicted the eastern half of the nation, where an outbreak of Arctic air has recently plunged temperatures to some of their lowest levels in many years, accompanied by wind chills in the minus 40-50 degree range. Again, we can thank our intractable ridge of high pressure for shunting this brutal cold off to the east and keeping the Pacific Northwest relatively mild.

In the near term, it does appear as if our pattern will become more progressive in nature. Not to panic, you Tea Partyers and John Birchers! All this means is that weather systems will move from west to east through our area with some regularity as the high temporarily relaxes its death grip and opens the storm door to a series of low pressure troughs that will bring a chance of precipitation to Southeast Washington each day this week, along with a fair chance of some rather gusty winds on Wednesday. Somewhat warmer temperatures will also gradually overspread the region, virtually guaranteeing that this precipitation will fall in liquid form. Rain chances hold into the coming weekend, after which the high might reassert itself for a return to a drier regime next week.

In the vineyard, the vines are slumbering away, blissfully unaware of the fate that awaits them every year around this time. Soon the pruner’s shears will be artfully reshaping them for the new growing season. In the meantime, there are winter weeds to be addressed with a variety of means for both aesthetic and water-usage reasons. The vacation is over — time to get back to work.

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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