Valley prescribed a New Year's chill pill


Your weather forecaster will not allow himself to indulge in any sort of pretentiously cerebral analysis of the events of the past year other than to say it was a fascinating 12 months meteorologically speaking — locally and nationwide — and a truly fabulous year for our local grape and wine industry.

Personally, 2012 will be colored forever by his end-of-year medical issues that can best be summarized by his New Year’s resolutions for 2013:

Compile an exhaustive list of physical activities appropriate for those of us with one and two-fifths functional knees

Establish a line of designer compression stockings

Write a book titled “Meet Hydrocodone: How Vicodin became my BFF.”

And speaking of disasters, 2012 will go down as one of the most costly ever from a severe weather event point of view. It is exceeded only by 2005, the year Katrina and three other major hurricanes laid waste to a vast area of the Gulf Coast and other portions of the United States.

In the year just ending, the nation experienced 11 separate weather events in which at least $1 billion worth of damages was incurred, compared to 14 such events reported in 2011.

Foremost among 2012’s most damaging weather disasters was the extended and extensive combination of searing summer heat and unrelenting drought that gripped the nation’s midsection for many weeks, resulting in huge losses to a variety agricultural products. Not since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s has the United States experienced such an unforgiving combination.

Then, in late October, “Superstorm” Sandy left its indelible mark on a largely unsuspecting and generally ill-prepared East Coast, contributing substantially to what will likely be a more than a $60 billion total price tag on our national weather and climate disasters for 2012.

In addition, the loss of 131 lives from Sandy accounted for more than a third of the 349 total deaths resulting from the 11 severe weather catastrophes nationally over the year.

Locally, our weather will enter the new year with more of a whimper than a bang as a rather tranquil regime has settled into place for much of the state. A large area of high pressure just off the coast will shunt incoming storms to our north and south for the balance of the week as it funnels the coldest air of the year around its clockwise flow southward from western Canada.

It is from this sort of stable pattern that features sinking air under high pressure that will bring the Walla Walla Valley several days of mostly cloudy and very cold days and nights marked by broad areas of freezing fog and temperatures that will not likely exceed 32 degrees anytime soon.

It is also a pattern that is generally devoid of precipitation, so Saturday evening’s delightful dusting of seasonally appropriate snow may be all we’ll see until the protective high gives way, which could occur this coming Sunday or Monday.

This change to a more inclement pattern may lead to a potentially stormy and snowy second week of January, reinforced by a shot of some very cold arctic air. But the 16-day Global Forecast System has fibbed to us before, so we’re not quite ready to commit to a blizzard-type event just yet, though the situation bears watching.

At any rate, our Washington ski areas are already enjoying a huge early-season snow pack. So the real benefit of an arctic onslaught would be to those of us who want our winters to look and feel like a real winter should — not some namby-pamby version thereof which seems increasingly to be the case as global climate change works its unappreciated magic.

A lifelong fan of both the weather and the Baltimore Orioles, Jeff Popick is an instructor at the Enology and Viticulture Center at Walla Walla Community College and manages the school’s teaching vineyard. Send your questions and comments to him at


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