October 21, 2021

Rain, rain go away

Todd R. McAdam/Contributing photographer

Aria Henry, 7, left, and Nyambura Mukoma, 7, try to entertain themselves during a thunderstorm Monday at Lime Hollow Nature Center. Cortland County has seen 50 percent more rain since June 1 than normal.

Sarah Kleefeld looked past the rain Monday at the shelter at Lime Hollow Nature Center. It was filled with kids getting out of the rain.

“If it weren’t for the lightning, they’d be doing mud dances,” said Kleefeld, the summer camp’s director. A bolt of lightning struck perhaps a few hundred yards away, followed by face-slapping clap of thunder. “You might hear some screams, now.”

“We don’t do indoors well,” said Lime Hollow Executive Director Glenn Reisweber.

The Lime Hollow campers are getting used to it. Since June 1, 10.5 inches of rain has fallen on Cortland County, 50 percent more than a typical year. Just this month, 4.8 inches has fallen, almost twice as much as normal and nearly 10 times as much as this time last year.

So instead, the kids at Lime Hollow and other outdoors summer camps shelter, watch the rain and wonder when — or if — they’ll get to play outside without a rain jacket and soggy shoes.

It’s an increasingly common question. Cortland city parks have seen a record number of weather-related cancellations, said Youth Bureau Director John McNerney: baseball leagues, softball leagues.

The Old Timers Band canceled a performance last week. “Monday night is our worst night, a number of games are weeks behind,” he said.

The only beasts in the water at Yaman Park were geese. The lifeguards lounged in the bathhouse, checking their text messages and sitting with blankets over their legs as they waited for the thunderstorm to pass.

“Last week was the third time we flooded,” said Ashley Case. This time it was for six days. Since Memorial Day, it flooded for four days, and again for five.

“We try to keep them busy,” McNerney said. But there’s only so many times they can paint the gazebo, and paint doesn’t dry well in the rain.

Very little can keep Jessica Flores busy. She runs the concession stand at the park. “I’m just happy I don’t have a lot of overhead,” Flores said. “Right now, I’m barely keeping the lights on.”

Caroline Holman, owner of the Ringwood Raceway outdoor go-cart track in Freeville, said she has lost thousands of dollars so far this year due to frequently closing because of rain.

“If the track is wet, I have to close,” she said — 23 times so far this year. The carts have no roof and run on slick tires, which would get no traction in the rain. It’s the worst she’s seen in 27 years; last week’s Friday storm killed Holman’s weekend because a river of water filled the track.

Blame a persistent ridge of high pressure air in the West, bringing heat and flame-inspiring dryness, said Joanne LaBounty, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Binghamton. That ridge is paired with an equally persistent trough of low pressure air in the east, sucking cooler air into Central New York.

Every few days, another low front comes through bringing with it rain, flash floods and water tables about as high as they can go.

Ever the optimist, LaBounty points out that we might, just might, get a few days of dry weather starting this weekend, “at least into next week,” she said.

While she said it’s too early to guess what might happen as hurricane season arrives, the ground is as saturated as it was in the late summer of 2011.

That’s the year a pair of tropical depressions met over New York, causing a 500-year-flood in Broome County that destroyed hundreds of homes. “It’s something to be watchful for,” she said.

At Yaman Park, Mike Sacco and Bob Brown looked out over the empty water and enjoyed a cool breeze. They’re from Vestal and chatted about that flood. It was the second 500-year flood in five years in Broome County.

Holman said instead of being upset with the weather she has learned to be content with it, and thankful for a day off.

Under the shelter at Lime Hollow, 7-year-old Jonathan Harrison sat on a picnic bench in a row of boys all staring at the rain.

“Usually, I’d go inside,” Jonathan said. Sometimes he plays in the rain. “And sometimes, I’m sitting outside watching the rain go by.”