Here we are on May 22nd, 2016 and it’s a typical cool, rainy day we get in May here in the Puget Sound AVA, but if you dialed the clock back a few weeks you would’ve thought it was July!
Above is the Growing Degree chart for a nearby WSU weather station. Click on it to expand it but from the thumbnail you can see from January to around mid May 2015 had more degree days than any of the previous years this station had recorded. For those that forgot, 2015 was full of sunny, warm days starting in January and continuing most of the summer. We had some rain right at the end of harvest that made us lose some grapes but for the most part it was a hot and dry summer.
2016, on the other hand, started out quite normally with rain and cool weather. The heat didn’t kick on until March and it seemed like summer came very early. In the chart above you can see where 2016 crosses 2015 in late April and seems to just take off and it shows in the vineyard right now. Growth is weeks ahead of what I consider normal, flowering is just right around the corner and many vines hitting the top wire already. But the seemingly endless heat came to an end a few days ago and we’ve had a lot of rain and clouds which is actually pretty normal this time of years.
I am always trying to see into the future when it comes to the vineyard and so are climate scientist. They are saying that El Nino is wrapping up and we are headed into an La Nina year, which is cooler and wetter for us here in the PNW. I have seen it rain from the middle of August all winter long and a complete loss of crop or sometimes it just gets really cool, but stays dry. That happened back in 2001 and we actually harvested on November 2nd that year.
Looking at the Climate Prediction Center website, it appears they think we will get back into some hotter and drier weather this summer and for my grapes I sure hope so.
Above is the June-July-August outlook which shows hotter and drier weather.
I have struggled to keep up with the heat this year. The grass and super early budbreak has put me off kilter trying to stay on top of it. The dry weather has also allowed me to work in the evenings when I haven’t normally been able to do that. But I think I have caught up. Keep checking in to follow along and see what’s happening!
I am dancing a little dance right now!
According the latest guidance from the Climate Prediction Center. The monthly report as of March 5th is predicting that we will see warmer and drier conditions through the end of summer. This is great news for western Washington growers. Hopefully a repeat of last year. Although, I have seen these end badly with a ton of rain in September, all we can do is hope for a dry September and if the way things are going now, we are off to a super early start and will probably have bud break within a month, well ahead of the normal mid April bud break.
Puget Sound AVA heading for another warm year in 2015? I am a weather geek as my wife will tell you. Sure I obsess over weather statistics and climate information. I am always trying to stay a head of the game in the grape growing world. I am especially interested in how this pertains to growing grapes in a cool climate. I have to admit I am a sucker for cool climate wines. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling… I love them all (as long as they aren’t sweet!). When I started this journey, we barely had the internet and it was hard finding information about grapes and growing techniques for the Puget Sound, or for that fact just about anywhere in the world. It was all in books and, yes, I did order books from Germany and Australia because the had more complete information about the climate of the Puget Sound than books from the USA. But, even they were based on a few weather station mostly located at WSU research stations which can be quite a bit cooler than the best places to grow grapes in the Puget Sound basin. Namely, I am thinking about the Mt. Vernon research station, which is in a very cold location.
Anyways… I got off track a little there! But it goes to show you how public perception of something (Seattle is rainy and cold) is not always the case. But, we are really looking at some good weather for the next few weeks here in the Seattle area. The Climate Prediction Center is predicting a warmer and drier trend for the next 90 days or so. They are saying we are on the tail end of an El Nino year and this should all end by the middle of the sumer.
Here is what I think… There is no way this is bad for grower in the Puget Sound region. Warmer and drier weather means an early start to the growing season. Having an early start is always a good thing west of the cascades because you never know what is coming. I have definitely seen the weather fall apart before harvest. 2010 was a good example of a year that started off great, but when September came it rained and rained for a full month and wiped out my crop. BUT, I have also seen where we got off to an warm, early start and things cooled off and because we had an early start, we were allowed to harvest in a reasonable time.
I guess the bottom line to the story for growing in the Puget Sound AVA is warmer is always better no matter when it comes!