FEBRUARY

By Bill Biddle

From the front page of this newspaper last week comes this comment under the Almanac byline: “After a bit of sunshine, look for more marginal wintry precipitation: mixed rain/snow down low, snow up high. Is this the new Methow climate?”

Yes.

To explain: some years ago Weatherwatch took the stand that well-below zero mornings would become less and less frequent in the Methow Valley and that precipitation and humidity throughout the year would slowly edge up. The former has happened; the latter is happening; both will continue for the foreseeable future.

What is happening? This year, a strong El Niño took control of the weather in early January after two wintry months, albeit with little snow. January in the valley was 10 or more degrees above normal and snowfall was half of normal. February will be the same.

But California got slammed by major storms that dumped heavy rains on the lowlands and deep snows on the Sierra Nevada. Enough precipitation fell so that the reservoirs are being filled for the first time in years. There was even a report that the long-term drought in the state was about to end. Can you remember the events in The Grapes of Wrath that the Joad family faced from beginning to end? The book starts with the drought that the Okies faced in the Midwest and ends with Rose of Sharon and an old man in a boxcar that is above the rising waters of a flood. John Steinbeck’s novel serves Weatherwatch very well for this column.

But there are more facts to help explain this new Methow climate. A pool of cold air – very cold air – is essential to bring about below-zero temperatures and big snowstorms in the valley. That pool of cold air just is not here on the whole West Coast. Read about the plight of the winter Olympics for some of the events that are to take place just east of Vancouver. No snow and temperatures above freezing so snow cannot be made – it will have to be shipped in by helicopters and trucks. Big problems.

Furthermore, the jet stream has a split-flow: one flow aimed at California, the other aimed at far northern Canada where Arctic chill and frequent snowfalls are commonplace.

Finally, climate change, formerly called global warming. Your Weatherwatch observer attended a lecture at the University of Washington last week given by Peter Ward, a scientist studying the earth’s climate. “The earth is in deep trouble.” “Stop burning coal right now before carbon dioxide buries us.” His lecture and his forthcoming book, The Flooded Earth, are on the Internet at Google.

Buried in this February Weathewatch is the simple forecast that the valley will continue the regimen referred to in the beginning of the column: “The new Methow climate” is upon us.

March? Stay tuned!