A winter season that ended on the cold side gave way this week to a spring that forecasters say could be colder than normal, too.
For the most part, the late winter and early spring weather is living up to its billing as La Niña-influenced, which means cool, wet weather in the Pacific Northwest.
“There hasn’t been a lot of light or heat,” said Jan Pigman, a Nisqually Valley commercial farmer. “We haven’t cultivated our fields yet, and even the crops in the greenhouse are growing slow.”
La Niña represents a cooling of surface ocean water near the equator, which in turn drives weather patterns in a global way. Here in the Pacific Northwest it means the opposite of the warmer, drier conditions linked to El Niño and warmer surface water in the east Pacific Ocean.
But there may be some weather relief on the horizon: The La Niña that started to gain strength in August 2010 is showing signs of weakening and reverting back to neutral by June, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center 90-day outlook.
“La Niña is starting to weaken,” confirmed National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis D’Amico.
The long-range forecast for April through June calls for below normal temperatures to mix with varying chances of rainfall.
In Olympia, December and January were a bit above normal for daytime high temperatures, but February was 4 degrees lower than the average, including record lows on Feb. 20, Feb. 25 and Feb. 26. March daytime highs have averaged about 49 degrees, about 4 degrees lower than normal, too.
Total rainfall for the year was 18.34 inches when spring arrived Sunday, about 1 inch more than normal.
The more than one month of colder-than-usual late winter weather triggered a spike in power bills delivered this month to Puget Sound Energy customers, company spokeswoman Dorothy Bracken said.
For those who need a shot of sunny spring weather, Wednesday looks like the best bet this week with highs projected to reach the mid-50s, D’Amico said. The rest of the week should feature sun breaks and showers with highs in the mid-50s. The weekend could feature more stormy weather, D’Amico said.
For farmers and backyard gardeners with well-drained soils, the planting of early spring crops is under way.
“I tilled my field and planted peas and onions Sunday,” said East Olympia farmer Ray Parker, best known for the fresh corn he’s sold at his farm since 1975.
Last year, a cool and wet spring and summer meant his corn didn’t ripen until Labor Day weekend, two or three weeks later than normal.
“This year’s gardening season is starting out a lot like last year’s,” said Parker.
One bright note on the cool March weather: Pigman said she might still have daffodils for sale when the Olympia Farmers Market opens April 7.
“Farmers have to have a good streak of optimism,” she said when asked how she copes with the vagaries of spring weather.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com