By Bill Biddle
“Welcome in the winter light!” This is a steal (with the last word changed from “night” to “light”) from the title of the winter forecast published 10 weeks ago in the Methow Valley Winter Guide. At that time, the valley was getting ready for five months of “winter night.” However, now in early February – even with six more weeks of winter as predicted by the groundhog – Weatherwatch is hearing comments like “I’m ready for spring – how about you?”
February will still be our fourth month of winter and far from spring-like here in the valley, but snow lovers may have to despair: Fresh, new snow will be a rarity throughout most of the month. Low clouds will hover day after day; winter light will be muted day after day; it will feel like snow day after day, but the snow will not come until late in the month, and not much then.
What’s going on? La Niña. Yes, we are stuck with a moderate La Niña that began to develop seven or eight weeks ago. This caught meteorologists and climatologists off guard, particularly because December had so much snow and cold throughout the Northwest. Then the tide turned with the rain and thaw in early January. Presto! La Niña reared its head and here we are with below-average temperatures, far less precipitation, and winter light that is muted by low clouds and occasional brilliant sunshine.
However, two unique aspects of a Methow winter developed during January and will occur again in February. The first was an occurrence at least three times of a Chinook wind as reported by Jay Lucas on his daily MVSTA grooming report. Chinook in the Salish means, “snow eater.” It is a warm wind that descends on the east side of the Rockies and North Cascade Mountains. It occurs when high-level winds descend and become warm by adiabatic heating. Also, a few cross country skiers reported to Weatherwatch in mid-January that warm air had hit them while skiing in Mazama. These winds occur during stable conditions and can often raise the temperature 10 to 20 degrees in a half-hour. Look for this to continue to happen during February.
The second aspect of a Methow winter that we will see occasionally during February is truly a “sight of light.” When the sun breaks through the low clouds and the sky is completely clear, a cerulean sky will be on display. Cerulean is an extraordinary blue. The only earth-connected cerulean is in the uniforms of the Blue Angels “that are a bright shade of cerulean” (according to Wikipedia). Watch for this extraordinarily blue sky during this month and wonder at the majesty of a Methow winter.
Up until Washington’s birthday on the 22nd, the valley will have weather enlightened only by Chinooks and cerulean skies. But Emily Dickinson will help us to appreciate these events in the first two stanzas of her four-stanza poem #258:
There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
Heavenly hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the meanings are –
Light snow will fall off and on during the final week of February, and so will end the month.
March? Stay tuned!