Dry, warm weather bodes well for 2013 wine vintage

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Someone upstairs was obviously listening to your weatherperson’s plaintive cry last week for some relief from the crushing heat. Thankfully, the spell was broken at midweek and Thursday and Friday ended up being very tolerable for early July. In fact, Friday’s high of 83 was two degrees shy of normal for the date — and most welcome by those who had come close to expiring in the furnace that raged at the beginning of the week.

Your forecaster had the good luck of spending the long holiday weekend in a lovely Cascade campsite at the 4,000-foot elevation at Walupt Lake. At the lake, daytime highs in the 70s and nighttime lows in the upper 40s nearly wiped clean the horror of last week’s high heat from his sun-addled brain. Some fabulous camp food lovingly prepared by his significant other and highlighted by a large and delicious morel — found as your weatherperson was searching (somewhat desperately) for a tree — along with the crystal-clear and surprisingly swimmable water of this jewel of a lake combined perfectly to take the edge off “city” life and restore a sense of relaxation and well-being that we all crave and need.

Weather-wise, we will be in need of little for the current week. Weak ridging will provide for a two-day warm-up on Tuesday and Wednesday with highs reaching the mid-90s on both days. This mini-warm spell will be quickly followed by a general cool-down courtesy of a shallow trough of low pressure through which a couple of very minor disturbances will traverse our area, importing some cooler maritime air on the westerly flow they generate. Afternoon maximum temperatures will drop into the low and mid-80s by Friday and Saturday, with a slight warming occurring on Sunday — all in all, a near-perfect July weekend.

In the longer term, the 16-day outlook shows nothing but dry weather and seasonably warm temperatures ahead: good news indeed for those of us who tremble at the thought of another nasty heat wave.

And speaking of heat, the warm weather has advanced the development of our local grapevines beyond where we might normally expect to see them this time of year. One measure through which we can track this seasonal progress is by tallying “degree days.” These are calculated by subtracting 50 degrees from the daily mean temperature and keeping a running total of the sum every day from April 1 through October 31. It provides a convenient and valuable way of comparing years and determining if we are behind or ahead of where we should be on any given date. This year, we are currently about 12 days ahead of average in our degree day summation — a serious contrast to recent years in which cooler-than-normal summers kept the number well behind the seasonal average.

If the present trend continues, the Walla Walla Valley should experience its warmest year since 2003. Grape growers will be most grateful for this, as it significantly reduces the amount of worry at the end of the season regarding their ability to successfully ripen the fruit they are carrying on their vines before frost or rainy fall weather brings a halt to the process and brings down the curtain on vintage 2013.

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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