WENATCHEE — The veil of thick smoke has finally lifted to reveal brilliant fall colors that — who knows — might have been there for awhile. It’s hard to say whether the smoke had some reaction with nature to intensify autumn’s usual palette of paint. Blindered by the shroud of smoke for the last six weeks, maybe it’s just a trick of our color-deprived eyes.
Whatever the reason, fall colors — slick and gleaming with the first measurable rainfall in nearly three months this weekend and today and now in radiant sunlight — seem unusually bright and very welcome.
Drive up Icicle Canyon south of Leavenworth and you’ll find a progression of color as you gain altitude. The sun-bright yellow of cottonwood, aspen and big leaf maple turns to darker hues of ochre, orange and brown as the road rises to areas where frost has left its trail. Once green ferns and devil’s club are a ghostly white as chlorophyll is stripped away by shorter daylight hours and cold. Higher on the surrounding canyon walls, serviceberry and larch glow their brilliant shades of gold. Red and purple vine maple, sumac and salal shine like rubies strewn through the forest.
Autumn color is evident everywhere you look right now, along cottonwood-rimmed rivers, checkered orchards and tree-lined residential streets. It’s especially colorful in mountain areas near Mission Ridge, Tumwater Canyon and around Lake Wenatchee.
The festive colors are indeed a celebration coming after the flames and choking smoke that threatened much of North Central Washington since early September.
The fire and smoke dangers were exacerbated by one of the region’s longest periods of drought. A National Weather Service climate survey showed 84 consecutive days with only an unmeasurable trace of precipitation for Wenatchee until Saturday’s 0.01 inch, still a paltry amount. The last measurable rain came July 20 with 0.05 inch fell. The last dousing rainfall was July 17 when 0.29 inches was recorded at Pangborn Memorial Airport. Trace of rain fell Aug. 19 and Sept. 8, 9 and 28.
The 84-day drought was the third longest period without measurable rain since local records have been kept, starting in 1959. The Wenatchee area’s longest dry spell was 102 days in 1974, breaking the previous record of 94 days in 1973. The same 84-day drought this year set all time records for Moses Lake and Pullman, according to the weather service.
More significant amounts of rain were falling in the region this morning — mostly sideways in a strong wind. Some areas may get up to 0.25 inches, said Ty Judd, a forecaster for the Weather Service’s regional office in Spokane. A cold front pushing the rain will continue until this evening, with gusts up to 50 mph. Low temperatures will drop to the upper 30s tonight with a high of 60 Wednesday. Another system could blow in Thursday, bringing another chance of rain.
October is the big transition month when fall weather really sets in, Judd said, but the long range outlook for this winter is for more dry weather, and possibly colder than normal if an El Niño system sets in. Judd said conditions were setting up for such a system, which usually means drier and colder weather conditions. The last couple of years have been La Niña systems with slightly warmer and wetter winter weather, he said.
As hard as it may be to believe, Wenatchee has had a rather wet year so far, thanks to an abnormally wet La Niña spring. Wenatchee has recorded 5.43 inches for the year as of Monday, about a quarter inch more than average, according to weather service records.
“We’re actually ahead of normal for the year, but obviously that has nothing to do with the past three months,” Judd said.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151