For those in the Pacific Northwest who believed the month of March was by and large on the chilly side, the data says otherwise.
What’s more worrisome, underscored by acclaimed climatologist Greg Jones, is that the first three months of 2022 have continued the region’s widespread drought.
“Precipitation for the month of March over the west largely continued the ongoing dry conditions since early January with anywhere from 5% to 75% of normal for most areas except the NW portions of Oregon and Washington,” Jones wrote in his Weather and Climate Summary and Forecast for April 2022.
Jones, now CEO of his family’s Abacela Winery and Fault Line Vineyards in Roseburg, Ore., added, “Precipitation amounts for the water year continue to fall, now mostly at 75% or less for a large area of the western U.S.”
The 12-month time frame for the 2022 water year, as determined by the U.S. Geological Survey, will end Sept. 30. Much of the areas in Washington, Oregon and Idaho that are home to the region’s vineyards are between 70% and 85% of normal precipitation.
“As such, drought concerns continue over 90% of the West in some level of drought, with the most severe to exceptional drought conditions rising to over 30% of the West,” Jones wrote. “Chances for much or any drought improvement are not likely from here on into the summer.”
Jones, former director of Linfield University’s wine studies program, noted that after a cooler-than-average February for most of the Northwest, the West Coast experienced temperatures 1-4°F above average in March, so it’s been warm yet dry.
“The high-pressure ridge that has been out over the Pacific continues limiting storms off the Pacific from bringing much moisture to anywhere but the extreme NW,” he wrote.
Potential for frost damage looms mid-April
The first full week of April is expected to present some extremes — a foot of snow in the Cascades and 50-mph winds across the Columbia Valley followed by a couple of days in the 70s.
However, on the horizon there will be fears of frost damage throughout Northwest vineyards during the second half of April.
“The forecast for mid-month is hinting at cold air dropping down out of Alaska, as such, quite cool conditions are forecast for most of the west,” Jones wrote. “Given that budbreak has occurred or starting for many, the concern during this time is, of course, frost, which could be widespread with clearing skies after frontal passes during mid-month.”
The recording of growing degree days for the 2022 vintage began on April 1 and concludes Oct. 31, and while anyone living the Northwest will remember last year’s “heat dome” phenomenon, the 2021 vintage fell just shy of matching the historically hot 2015 growing season.
This spring, the 2022 growing season is expected to start more modestly.
“As has been on the long-term forecasts for a while now, the PNW has a high likelihood of seeing a cooler-than-average April,” Jones wrote.
Experts see that extending through June as a result of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.
“The 90-day forecast continues to show the continued La Niña and PDO influence, pointing to likely cool and near-average precipitation for the PNW and near-average temperatures and dry south in California,” Jones wrote.