By Bill Biddle
Good morning, Winter! Ahh – that should do it! Some sort of incantation is necessary to bestir Old Man Winter from his lair at 5,500 feet on Washington Pass. He has been laughing his head off as he watches the cross country skiers whish by as they ski the road into the overlook or traverse the stream-bedecked marsh next to the road. Yes, it is winter up there. It is also winter at neighboring Rainy Pass, where the intrepid can ski into Rainy Lake or higher.
Old Man Winter needs to be cajoled out of his lair and given some severe strictures against laughing at mere mortals. He needs to come down to earth where Methow mortals live: those who don Lycra outfits or snowmobile togs. They would gladly entice him to make a prolonged visit to the valley and reside for a spell.
Patience, dear readers, patience. Weatherwatch has put a spell over Winter’s lair. No more of his laughing from the heights at skiers and snowmobilers who go thousands of feet up to find snow. No more laughing at a mere mortal who predicted snow at the end of November followed by “single-digit temperatures.”
Weatherwatch did say that. It didn’t happen. But – some of the snowiest winters in the Methow have occurred after a slow start that does not get revved up until the middle of December. That is what will happen this winter. Old Man Winter will move into the Methow well before Christmas. He has a pocketful of snowstorms that he will deliver – some of which will be delivered with a gusto that will make up for the paucity of snow in November.
But before the December forecast, a few words about the low stratus clouds and the inversion that prevailed during the end of November. The jet stream had a big dip south as it came down from central Canada. It then surged north up the east coast. This gave deep snow and frigid temperatures to east-central Canada as well as lake-effect snow in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
A jet stream configuration like this means that the Pacific Northwest is open to warm fronts from the Pacific Ocean and little or no wind activity. Cold air is trapped at the surface as warm air slides above it. The result is an inversion.
This stagnation of air will soon break down. Moisture-laden clouds will stream in above the low stratus and light snow or freezing rain will start the month of December. The first chance for a significant snowfall will not be until the 10th or 12th of the month. After that will come sub-zero temperatures followed by a solstice snowstorm that will be a humdinger.
Henry David Thoreau will help us appreciate this pre-Christmas snow event. In a letter written on Dec. 18, 1856, he wrote the following:
“For my part I am trying to wake up, – to wring slumber out of my pores; – for, generally, I take events as unconcernedly as a fence post, – absorb wet and cold like it, and am pleasantly tickled with lichens slowly spreading over me.”
We, too, will be pleasantly tickled with the Methow Valley and its winter garb as Christmas and the week after see a snow-laden landscape that will cover the lichen-encrusted fence posts. Old Man Winter is here in the valley once again.
January? Stay tuned!