Despite the horror stories coming out of the eastern and southern parts of country, the problem that severe weather conditions cause mostly discomfit in getting to or from where people need to go (like work), or while looking at their electric bills. For a few people, however, weather conditions are the controlling factor in their lives; weather conditions dictate how they live and work, where they live, and when it is “safe” to move. While most people work either inside a building or a vehicle, for others who spend almost their entire day outside, the local weather report—often wrong—is the single most important piece of information they will need. In Western Washington, which has a reputation for “mild” winters, the reality is that the weather usually fluctuates between periods of either frequent rain, or that of near (or below) freezing temperatures; according to the latest “forecast,” the first few days of March are to see low temperatures (supposedly) near or below freezing. But then again, that was yesterday; today it is likely an entirely different tale.
It is of course foolish to make any "assumptions" about the weather around here more than 24 hours in advance, since it likes to play dirty tricks on people. I used to check the "long range" forecast--meaning three days--and actually believe it was going to hold-up for at least that long. I might leave my wet-weather gear at home, and find myself spending 10 hours trying to ward off an impending fever. Other times, I feel like a fool because I was "told" that it was going to rain, and there was the sun, laughing at me. If you are out "camping" without a "camp," that's another issue altogether.
Of course, the Pacific Northwest is rather “mild” when compared to other locales. Yesterday, the National Weather Service reported that “A bitterly cold arctic air mass continues to invade the eastern 2/3 of the country on Wednesday, bringing high temperatures that are 15-30 degrees below normal for many locations. High temperatures on Wednesday will be in the single digits or teens across much of the northern Plains, Upper Midwest and Great Lakes. Meanwhile, temperatures will be 10-15 degrees above normal across parts of the West.” While temperatures will improve later in the week in most places, the Great Lakes region is set to receive a “reinforcing shot of cold weather” which will send temperatures 30 to 40 degrees below normal.
In fact, the Midwest has been in the grip of abnormally frigid temperatures for so long that 88 percent of the Great Lakes surface area is completely frozen over. Having spent my youth in Wisconsin, I can imagine what it is like working outside at one of the airports in the region during the winter, especially when the wind is blowing; some of these whiners who spend half their time standing around would have plenty more to “complain” about if they worked out there.
Meanwhile, “A long-standing ridge in the West will give way to an approaching Pacific system, allowing precipitation to spread inland over the Western U.S. beginning later today. Drought stricken California should see the brunt of the action, with the highest totals expected along the Sierra and the coastal ranges. By Thursday expect this system to move across the Great Basin into the Rockies, but with another system nearing the California coast by early Friday.” This sounds like “good” news, since California has been the hot grip of record low rain and snowfall in the past year, with nearly all reservoirs below 50 percent of normal capacity. According to the NWS’ latest Drought Outlook, half the country west of the Mississippi River is experiencing drought conditions. That includes Western Washington, which despite heavier than normal rainfall in February is still far below normal since the “rainy” season began October 1; increased rain during the springtime will do little to compensate for the lack of snowpack during the coldest period of year.
Yet the same high-pressure system with its southerly winds that has brought about the severest drought conditions in recent memory in California is also responsible for some of the warmest temperatures Alaska has seen in many years; temperatures throughout the state were “summer-like” in Octobers, and some locations saw rather shockingly high temperatures in January. Fairbanks was practically brought to a standstill by rainfall, while the Kenai Peninsula saw temperatures near or at 60 degrees. The 62 degrees recorded at NOAA’s Climate Reference Station near Port Alsworth in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve on January 27 tied the record highest temperature in Alaska for January. The average temperature for the entirety of the state in January was 29.4 degrees, which was considerable warmer than many parts of the U.S. hit by Arctic fronts.
At any rate, the unpredictable nature of the weather is certainly fascinating for the amateur meteorologist, especially when the professionals seem to be employing astrology in making their “predictions.” There are certainly places you would rather not be at this time of year, accurate forecasts or not. Unhappily, it rather seems that if the weather is top most on your mind when you start your day (or night), the best that can be done is take one day at a time.