Not much snow and even less sunshine: What a dismal winter

By Jayson Jacoby February 12, 2010 10:59 am

I’m beginning to miss the sun.

This is a rare affliction in our valley, which is sheltered by not one by two rain shadows and as a result is a pretty sunny place.

The Cascade Mountains, the more imposing of these topographic barriers, siphon much of the moisture from the storms that ride the jet stream inland from the Pacific.

Then the Elkhorns wring out most of what’s left.

It’s quite common, then, for the Elkhorn peaks to be shrouded in cloud while sunshine brightens the valley below.

Which is nice if you enjoy skiing in the mountains but are less enthusiastic about shoveling your driveway.

These pleasant circumstances prevail, generally speaking, even during the depths of winter, a season renowned in less beneficent climates for conjuring skies of various slaty shades for weeks on end.

The typical winter sequence here, by contrast, begins with a day or less of storm followed by two or more days of clear.

This has not been a typical winter.

Since late December the sun has been obscured far more often than not — and even when neither snow nor rain was falling.

We’ve had fog on occasion, which at least has the advantage of novelty.

I like to go for a walk in the fog. The gray mist transforms familiar neighborhoods more dramatically than any other weather phenomenon (well, except maybe for a tornado or hurricane, neither of which, thankfully, poses much of a risk around here).

Sometimes while I’m strolling I imagine that I’m in London, and specifically the winding alleys of Whitechapel where Jack the Ripper prowled in 1888. Except my daydreams omit the murdered prostitutes.

The other nice thing about fog is that it can, when combined with sub-freezing temperatures, turn even a barren deciduous tree into a comely ice sculpture.

A low overcast has neither of these attractive attributes of fog. And unfortunately a low overcast has been the defining characteristic of the valley’s weather since 2010 started.

An overcast is like an unwelcome tenant who empties your refrigerator and leaves strange stains in your bathroom but never helps pay the utilities.

An overcast sky is ersatz weather, less nourishing than the thinnest gruel. It lacks the personality of fog and is bereft of the benefits of rain and snow. Precipitation can be annoying — especially when it’s precipitating straight down your back because you forgot your waterproofs — but at least it contributes to the fecundity of our soils and replenishes the aquifers.

It’s usually good for fish, too.

According to the computer-controlled sensors that “watch” the weather at the Baker City Municipal Airport (humans were relieved of this mundane task, and the paycheck that went along with it, several years ago), 27 days in January were either cloudy or partly so.

Just four days were clear.

I didn’t keep track, but that sounds about right to me.

Although I’ll concede that computers, in common these days with certain Toyotas, are prone to temporary fits of confusion, or even outright malevolence.

I remember one time the airport was reporting snow even though it was August, which sort of bothered me because I had the sprinklers going out in the yard and I hate to waste water.

I think what happens is sometimes the sensors’ endless litany of Os and 1s gets interrupted by, say, the Pythagorean theorem or the ZIP code of Topeka.

But anyway I’ll take the airport sensors at their word (or byte, or whatever) on the subject of cloud-free days.

And although the devices have been scanning the skies here for just the past few years, I feel confident in saying that, by Baker Valley standards, we really got gypped last month.

The previous January, for instance, there were twice as many sunny days.

The January before that was sunnier still, with nine clear days.

So far February’s skies have been as sullen as January’s, with not one wholly clear day in the first dozen.

And more than any other month, February, already deficient in days, is ill-equipped to play catchup. Last February we basked in 12 sunny days, and the February prior there were 10.

The scarcity of sunlight has been so persistent that I’ve actually started to crave, as though it were a decadent dessert or another great Oasis album, that archetypal spring day in Baker County.

Historically I harbor nothing but antipathy for that day.

You know the day I mean.

The sun shines so brilliantly that you’re helpless to resist the siren call. It lures you outdoors and spawns the pathetic optimism that convinces you to stash the heavy wool sweater in the closet.

Then the instant betrayal as the frigid north wind, the real March lion, slashes at your bare arms and gets your eyes watering. You flee inside, muttering about that ridiculous freeway sign that marks the 45th parallel, and the sheer insanity of implying that the weather around here (in March anyway) is equal parts North Pole and equator.

Even worse than pining for the vain promise of false spring, though, I have in my frustration been driven to pondering lyrics by the Eagles. This is the group, recall, which polluted the public airwaves with such phrases as “Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends.”

Abominable puns aside, the country-rockers did come up with one line that to me perfectly describes the gloomy atmosphere we’ve been enduring around here for weeks.

The lyric, from “Desperado,” even deals with winter.

“The sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine,” Don Henley sang. “It’s hard to tell the night time from the day.”

Personally, I’m ready for something more like this scene, also plucked from the Eagles’ repertoire:

“On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair.”

Summer driving with the top down — now that’s the good life.

Except I don’t own a convertible.


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.