Temps, tempers to rise as huge football weekend approaches

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It wasn’t quite as windy as all the dire warnings indicated it might be, but an energetic Pacific low pressure system did bring a host of varied weather with it as it passed north of Washington this weekend. Copious amounts of rain, heavy mountain snow and winds gusting in excess of 100 miles per hour in some places made for a very interesting weather weekend across the state. But all that did nothing to derail the Seahawks juggernaut, which faces its severest test of the season this coming Sunday, when a tough-as-nails San Francisco squad visits the Emerald City for an epic battle to determine this year’s NFC champion and a spot in the Super Bowl.

Fueled by an influx of moist and mild air from the subtropics, the counterclockwise-spinning low deepened dramatically on Friday. The closely packed isobars (lines on a weather map that connect locations with the same barometric pressure) testified to the very steep pressure gradient associated with the system whose central pressure before making landfall on the southern British Columbia coast had plunged to a hurricane-like 29.00 inches. The movement of air is driven by pressure differences between adjacent areas. If that difference is great over a relatively short distance, air will rush rapidly from higher pressure to lower pressure — “downhill” — much in the same manner that water will rush downhill from a high spot to fill the lower spot down below.

With the approach of the storm late Friday and early Saturday, strong southerly winds importing some of that subtropical warmth were further warmed by compression as they came up over the Blue Mountains and descended into the Walla Walla Valley. The result was an unusual increase in temperature here in town overnight and in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The mercury climbed steadily from 48 degrees at 8 p.m. Friday to a springlike 61 at 6 a.m. Saturday. Anyone who was out and about at that hour might have sworn the calendar had suddenly jumped ahead to April.

In the higher elevations, winds blowing unabated by frictional contact with the ground impacted peaks and ridgetops with a singular fury. Sedge Ridge — elevation 4,300 feet, about 40 miles west of Yakima at the base of the Cascades — recorded a gust early Friday of 105 mph and followed that on Saturday morning with a somewhat gentler 90 mph gust.

Locally, hurricane-force winds were not experienced at the Walla Walla Regional Airport, but several gusts approaching 50 mph were logged there on both days. These winds did only minor damage overall: a few tree branches down here and there, some garbage cans toppled and the occasional set of Christmas lights ripped away from their moorings (though those should have been stowed some time ago!) And in the half-light of dawn Saturday, your weatherperson swears he saw a rotund, dark-suited form bearing a striking resemblance to Chris Christie rolling over the Tausick Way bridge, pushed by the force of a wind over which he had no control but struggling mightily nonetheless to counteract its implacable will. A pathetic figure indeed.

After another rather blustery, damp day Sunday, a robust ridge of high pressure built back over the Pacific Northwest on Monday, providing clearing skies and calmer conditions by the afternoon. This ridge will ensure a fair weather regime for the Walla Walla Valley for the remainder of this week, with near- to slightly above-normal temperatures. Such conditions will be ideal for local vineyard managers to get going on their weed control programs that have been put off by recent inclement weather. If the 16-day Global Forecast System outlook has any credence at all, this stretch of fair weather will continue into the coming weekend with perhaps a weak system clipping the region on Saturday with more cloudiness and an outside shot at a little light rain.

Regrettably, the weekend storm did virtually nothing to help reduce our growing rainfall deficit, with less than one-tenth of an inch falling at the airport. Nor does next weekend’s system appear to offer much hope in that regard. Following its passage, the high will reload, and dry weather should prevail until perhaps Jan. 28.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s weather in Seattle for the big game should be quite tolerable — not too wet or windy. There is, though, a 100 percent chance of ill will, bad blood and some serious trash-talking after every play. Let’s get it on. Go Niners!

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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