Wetter period at month’s end could clear up gray areas

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"The Game” has been played, and the losers sent home to lick their wounds while the victors pack for the next — and final — round in New York City on Feb. 2. One thing has become abundantly clear: the San Francisco/Seattle rivalry that was fanned to a white-hot heat this past week will continue to smolder during the offseason, and will likely assume Troy/Sparta, Hatfields/McCoys, Hamilton/Burr proportions next fall when regular-season play resumes. Aside from determining the Super Bowl champs, only one question is left to be answered this football year: Were Richard Sherman and Dennis Rodman separated at birth? The former needs to seriously consider trading in his Adderall for an economy-size supply of Xanax.

No such problem for our local weather however. It has been as tranquil as a well-opiated junkie for what seems like forever, thanks to our pertinacious pal Mr. High Pressure, who has single-handedly brought the state of California to its knees — along with a good portion of the rest of the West — with its dogged insistence on deflecting our normal winter storms up into Canada, leaving almost everything west of the Rockies high and dry. As of the Jan. 14 drought survey (a new survey will be released today), more than 81 percent of the West was classified in the D0 to D4 categories — “Abnormally Dry” to “Exceptional Drought.”

Locally, January enters its third week with a woeful monthly precipitation total of 0.42 inches in what is normally one of our wetter months of the year, one in which the Walla Walla Valley (as represented by the Walla Walla Regional Airport) should receive an average of 2.28 inches. That figure is not likely to be approached this year, given the tenacity of the protective shield of high pressure.

To add to the gloom of impending drought, the lack of vertical air movement under the subsidence of the high has locked the Valley into a pall of fog and low clouds that has relegated the sun to some sort of mythical status, obscured by an impenetrable blanket of increasingly polluted air and low stratus that appears as if it might never release us from its icy grip. Under such a regime, cold air continues to pool up in the lower elevations while a lack of sunshine virtually ensures a continuation of gray days where there are no more than 3 or 4 degrees separating the daily maximum and minimum temperatures. It is of such a recipe that disquieting thoughts and depression are born, and dreams of sunnier, cheerier climes in Arizona, Florida and Hawaii are nourished.

If we are to put any credence at all into the 16-day Global Forecast System outlook, we may only have to endure the present dreary day-to-day dankness for another week or so before a pattern change brings some relief to the Pacific Northwest and our own little corner of Southeast Washington. It seems increasingly likely that a strong jet will develop over the mid-Pacific toward the end of the month and propagate eastward, forcing the stubborn high to yield and bringing a return to a wetter period beginning around Jan. 28 and lasting well into the beginning of February. Some of this precipitation may even fall as snow as colder air filters into the state from the north.

In the meantime, a weak system riding up over the top of the high pressure ridge through southern British Columbia and into Idaho late Wednesday might stir up the lower atmosphere enough to temporarily break up the fog and low clouds for a few hours that day, but the high is forecast to rebuild rapidly and will remain with us through the end of the week and into the coming weekend, with a continuation of the winter “crud” that is guaranteed to make even Pollyanna think dark thoughts about a rope and a chair.

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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