Stampede weather to float in — just a few days too late

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Once again, Mother Nature conspired to prevent many of this past weekend’s Balloon Stampede events from getting off the ground. Winds above ground level were sufficiently strong to make flying the colorful balloons a risky undertaking.

A potent cold front knifed across Southeast Washington late Thursday, bringing a round of wind and rain totaling just under half an inch. Though Friday was relatively dry, post-frontal breezes gusting to 30 miles per hour quickly banished any thoughts of safe ballooning. Though dire predictions for showers and thundershowers on Saturday never verified, conditions that morning were still marginal enough to preclude flying. Balloon fanciers were obliged to content themselves with admiring the inflated but tethered balloons on Saturday evening at Nite Glow under clear skies and calm winds.

In light of the imperfect weather, Stampede organizers were considering alternate dates for the spectacle in the future — perhaps some time in June when a more stable weather scenario is more likely to occur. May is still something of a transition month in our region, and lingering late-spring cold fronts from the Pacific are still prevalent enough (particularly during the first half of the month) to pose a possible threat to outdoor events. By the time June arrives, the jet stream that guides these systems through the atmosphere has generally retreated far enough north that these passages become more sporadic, and long stretches of days in the month are devoid of the kind of inclement weather that has played havoc with the Stampede in the past.

The current week’s weather will provide absolutely perfect conditions for ballooning or any other outdoor endeavor. The towering cumulus buildups of Saturday and Sunday that threatened but never delivered will give way to clear skies with a few wispy fair-weather cirrus clouds as the weekend’s slightly unstable atmosphere becomes less volatile under the influence of a strong region of high pressure.

Ample sunshine along with sinking air at the surface will combine to produce a robust warming trend that will see daily maximum readings rise by 5 to 8 degrees, so that by Thursday afternoon, highs may be flirting with a very summerlike 90 degrees. That will almost certainly be the warmest day of the week, as a dry cold front is forecast to bring a halt to the heat by later in the day Friday and for the coming weekend, when temperatures will dip some 10-15 degrees, accompanied by occasionally gusty winds that will make it seem even cooler. Though there is currently little moisture associated with this system, it is possible that low pressure following the front may furnish just enough with its southwesterly flow off the Pacific to touch off a few showers or thundershowers on Saturday and Sunday.

In the longer range, it will take a few days for the effects of that cooler air to be modified by May’s steadily increasing day-length and intensifying sun, but another warming trend is in the cards for next week with temperatures rising back to the 80-degree mark by Tuesday or Wednesday. The 8-14 day outlook issued this past Sunday by the Climate Prediction Center indicates a better-than-even chance that the period May 19-25 will feature above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation.

In other words, all of you who have been holding off on planting those tomatoes in fear of a late-season frost, start digging. Those who rolled the dice by planting a couple of weeks earlier, your gamble has paid off. With a little luck, those luscious red fruits will be gracing your table by early July.

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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