By Bill Biddle
Weatherwatch will start this March column with a discussion of the windstorm that hit the valley during the last week of February. What a blast from the north! Highly unusual, too, for such a norther to descend during a Methow winter. Weatherwatch had to scurry through his logbooks and manuals to delve into this sleep-awakening event. But with the right set of circumstances, the wind really did whistle through the trees and around the houses of the valley for hours and hours.
Poetry can best describe how the wind pounced upon the valley. William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) in “A Rain Dream” describes it thusly:
A melancholy sound is in the air,
A deep sigh in the distance, a shrill wail
Around my dwelling. ‘Tis the Wind of night.
The right set of circumstances was perfectly set in place with a cold front to the northwest and a low-pressure center to the southeast. The valley was right in the middle of this conjunction.
But there was more to this scenario that added to the intensity of the wind gusts. This windstorm was a katabatic wind: “a wind consisting of dense air that has cooled by radiative cooling over upland areas or contact with snow and ice fields and which then drains down into the valleys.” (Oxford Dictionary of Weather)
The cold front preceded a high-pressure area (dense, cold air) that literally blew into the low-pressure area (warm, moist air). Furthermore, gravity helped bring the heavy, dense air down into the valley and whoosh! Wailing, whistling, and whumping came the “Wind of night.” A February windstorm to remember!
But how about “the winds of March” that William Shakespeare referred to in “The Winter’s Tale”? As the Methow winter slowly ends, more wind is heading our way. It won’t be the same as the late February blast, but be prepared for snow-eating, warm winds late in the month. The early April yellow bells and spring beauties will love this warm caress!
March will be mostly heavy clouds above and slop and slush below. After off-and-on snow and rain during the first two weeks, spring will edge in during St. Patrick’s Day week and will make a grand entrance at the equinox on the 20th. Good timing!
The final week will be sunny with warm winds to encourage the early bloom of the spring flowers. Another poet will take us out of March. Helen Hunt (1831-1885) proclaims:
Ah, March! We know thou art
Kind-hearted, spite of ugly looks and threats,
And, out of sight, art nursing April’s violets!
April? Stay tuned!