January 2014 will be remembered not for its scintillating weather but for the stultifying sameness of a seemingly interminable string of dreary days cloaked in a cold and clammy blanket of low clouds and fog.
Monday marked the 11th straight day this month during which the daily high never surpassed 32 and the daily low failed to fall below 27 — all without a single ray (as in “drop of golden sun” for you “Sound of Music” fans) to furnish even the faintest sliver of hope to Walla Wallans desperately seeking some solar solace. Reading all 74,000-plus pages of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code would be a relief compared to what we have had to endure here meteorologically in the new year. Not even the occasional powdered-sugar dusting of snow sifting down from the ever-present low cloud deck has been sufficient to dispel the dismal and depressing drudge of day-to-day life under the steel-gray rule of the eastern Pacific high pressure system responsible for our collective misery.
Fortunately, nothing lasts forever (except a Mitch McConnell discourse on the debt ceiling). Mother Nature has taken pity on a weather-weary Walla Walla and is sending a welcome respite in the form of a reasonably robust low pressure center that will generate enough wind by Wednesday to finally sweep the Valley clean while offering the added bonus of a bit of much-needed precipitation today and tomorrow. Unfortunately, it appears there might be a price exacted even for this small favor: Enough cold air might remain trapped in the lower elevations of the Columbia Basin to allow for a period of freezing rain today, which could play havoc in some places with ground-based transportation.
As with many weather events, timing is everything, and the hour of onset of whatever falls from the sky will play a large role in determining the form of this precipitation. It does seem fairly certain, however, that enough warm air will eventually overspread our area to ensure that the event is not of an extended duration, as freezing rain or a rain/snow mixture changes over entirely to rain overnight tonight and into early Wednesday. (At this point, it would be appropriate for your modest meteorologist to remind his ceaselessly skeptical readers that he predicted a full two weeks ago that our next “real” precipitation would fall on January 28 — which just goes to prove that his personal weather Ouija board is occasionally capable of great feats of forecasting.)
High pressure will attempt to stage a counter-coup beginning Thursday with diminishing chances of rain, but the models are having considerable difficulty in arriving at a mutually acceptable outlook for the end of the week and this coming weekend. If the center of newly established high pressure sets up well off the coast, it is entirely possible that a series of fairly weak troughs of low pressure could ride up and over the clockwise circulation around the high and drop into eastern Washington to provide intermittent bouts of disturbed weather. But the bulk of this activity seems right now as if it will be confined to northeastern Oregon and Idaho, with some snow in higher elevations.
The 16-day Global Forecast System indicates an interval of mostly dry and cool to cold weather until next Wednesday, Feb. 5, at which time a somewhat rejuvenated Pacific jet stream may produce a string of storms that initially could start as snow here in the Valley before warmer air entrained in the systems changes that frozen precipitation to a liquid form. As Professor Marvel tells Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” — after that, the crystal ball goes dark, except for some wild flip-flopping of the GFS model that sporadically introduces an incursion of extremely frigid air locally late next week.
For those who insist on something more extended, the risk-takers at the Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md., have really gone out on a limb with both their February and three-month (February, March, April) outlooks, which advertise equal chances of above-, below- or normal temperatures and precipitation in those periods for our local area. For their next act, they will recklessly predict an above-normal chance of an eastern sunrise — but only for the next six months. Can’t be too cautious with such matters.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.