‘Weird weather’ not always unpredictable

Barbara McNaught Watson of the National Weather Service office in Binghamton spoke about 'weird weather' patterns at the Susquehanna County Historical Society and Free Library Association annual meeting Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/ROBERT BAKER


A meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in Binghamton laid out some straightforward statistics to try and explain why ‘weird weather’ happens.

Barbara McNaught Watson, whose family moved to Montrose about the time she started pursuing a bachelor’s degree in meteorology from Penn State, shared some perspective about flash flooding, hailstorms, thunderstorms that become tornadoes, blizzards and global warming in a program given at the annual meeting of the Susquehanna County Historical Society & Free Library Association.

Watson worked as a forecaster in Alaska, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia, where in 1993, she became the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the nation’s capital.

For a quieter life and to spend more time with her family, she took the position as Meteorologist-in-Charge of the Binghamton Forecast Office in 2004.

She said Saturday that she moved back to the region because she actually likes snow, but this winter finds herself having to explain how Washington, Philadelphia and New York City are getting socked with lots of snow while northeastern Pennsylvania remains relatively unscathed.

She shared that Central Park in New York City, for instance, has already had 56 inches of snow this winter when it can normally be expected to have only about 10 inches.

Not qite the opposite has occurred in Montrose, but she noted that normal seasonal snowfall amounts have definitely been held in check so far this winter.

She showed a photograph of a flash flood in the Forkston area in January 2010 and talked briefly about what happens when excessive rainfall has nowhere else to go but flood.

Watson shared about a 5-minute video of a recent flash flood in Australia to help explain what happens as waters rise quickly and how it only takes about a foot and a half of water to carry a previously parked automobile downstream.

She provided the backdrop to show how significant damage is capable of happening and indeed did happen locally in Wyoming and Susquehanna counties in Pennsylvania as well as the southern tier of New York with excessive rainfall events in September 2004, April 2005, June 2006 and November 2006.

She shared statistics of a 5-year period in the last decade where the region got 72 inches or six feet of rainfall more than normal for what would be expected in a 5-year period.

Watson asked, “Is it possible that the wet get wetter and the dry drier?”

She offered statistics and observed patterns that trended in that direction.

But she also laid out the workings of weather patterns like ElNeno that help define harsh storms.

She also said some weird weather visiting the area came last year with a severe thunderstorm that became a tornado covering a 30-mile swath from Friendsville to Honesdale

And, Watson also shared video of a hailstorm in the county when it was much warmer outside.

Watson said the variability of what happens in different parts of the same region can be explained in isolated weather patterns, and then asked, “But can you link them to climate change or global warming?”

She pointed out images of the ice cover in the Arctic currently compared to 25 years ago and noted the contrast was stark.

She said the human interaction with increased carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases has clearly shown global warming at play.

Something to look forward to she said wast that summer in Susquehanna County in 2080 will be more like summers in Virginia today.

She also noted that last year was the warmest on record, and the last decade was the warmest decade on record.

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