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Weather observer has 25 years on job

Staff writer

In 25 years as a weather observer for the National Weather Service, Norma Patton of Peabody has seen some unusual weather.

“When you go from sunshine to rain to snow in four hours, that’s interesting,” she said.

She remembers one particular storm, she thinks in 1990, when 4-inch hailstones fell. That storm arrived from the east.

“Anybody who observes weather in Kansas knows that storms from the east mean trouble,” Patton said.

Her husband shouted for her to go downstairs during the storm, even though she already was downstairs. The hail was so heavy that it sounded like footsteps.

“My husband thought we were walking around upstairs,” she said.

She only reports precipitation, because she doesn’t have equipment to record wind speeds or high and low temperatures.

The brass rain gauge supplied by the National Weather Service has a 6-inch collection dish that funnels into a 2-inch tube. The rain gauge has to be in a clear area, where trees can’t interfere with collection.

The central tube only holds up to 2 inches of rainfall before it overflows into a larger basin. If rainfall exceeds 2 inches, Patton also measures the overflow. She measures at 7 a.m., but only on days when there is precipitation.

Snowfall measurements are more complicated. Patton measures in at least five open spots, where drifting is unlikely, and averages those depths. She also reports new snowfall and accumulation separately.

Moisture content of snow is another concern. After measuring snow depth, Patton melts a sample and reports how much water is left when the snow melts. In Kansas, snow averages .1 inches of water per inch of snow, she said.

“Today may have been three times that, it was so wet,” she said Nov. 17, when a mixture of snow and rain fell. Coincidentally, it was Kansas Winter Weather Awareness Day.

Although her measuring equipment has remained unchanged for 25 years, the method of reporting has changed significantly. When Patton began, she mailed in her measurements once a month. For a time she phoned the measurements to the National Weather Service, and now she reports precipitation on the Internet.

Patton reports rainfall more often during heavy rains, so the data can be used for flood projections.

“We have an area that is flood-prone,” in Peabody, she said.

She was out of town when heavy rains flooded part of Peabody in June.

Patton received a Length of Service Award on Oct. 19. She is part of a network of more than 11,000 observers for the National Weather Service.

Last modified Nov. 23, 2010

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