The May Day Weekend Floods of 2010: How it Happened

The incredible amounts of rainfall that inundated the region May 1-2, 2010 were a result of a complex weather setup. Below, you will find an image explaining how so much Gulf of Mexico moisture was able to find its way into the Ohio Valley, and why it stayed for such a prolonged period of time. Many locations in south central Kentucky along the Tennessee border received 8 to 10 inches of rainfall from early Saturday morning (May 1) to late Sunday evening (May 2). The copious rain that fell caused widespread and dangerous impacts across the region, including flash flooding, areal flooding, mudslides, dam failure, road closures, evacuations, and swift water rescues. Almost all streams and rivers in southern Indiana and central Kentucky experienced some sort of flooding. Areas along the Green River in south central Kentucky attained "major flood" criteria, which had significant impacts on local communities. Dunham Lake Dam on the south fork of the Little Barren River in Metcalfe County was put at a high risk of failing due to flood waters eroding the barrier. The Dunham Lake Dam has since been stablized.  Nearly the entire southern Indiana and central Kentucky warning area was put in a flood emergency Sunday and Sunday night.

Damage totalled about $30,000,000, and five people were killed in central Kentucky:

  • Lincoln County:  48-year-old male slipped off of his stranded van on a flooded road and drowned
  • Barren County:  27-year-old female drowned when she and her husband were washed off a flooded road in their car
  • Allen County:  34-year-old male missed a curve and plunged into a swollen creek
  • Madison County:  65-year-old male electrocuted awaiting rescue from his flooded home
  • Hart County:  55-year-old male kayaker drowned in a flooded river

Above is the meteorological setup that allowed plentiful amounts of Gulf of Mexico moisture into the region. The strong high pressure anchored off the mid Atlantic coast helped to stall the frontal boundary over the mid Mississippi River Valley. This also tightened the pressure gradient between the two systems, which strengthened the near surface winds. A 60 to 70 mph low level jet of winds was able to quickly and efficiently transport the incredible amounts of moisture northward. Waves of low pressure at the surface, combined with waves of energy aloft, helped kick off showers and thunderstorms. With so much moisture to work with, the showers and thunderstorms produced incredible rainfall rates of 1 to 2 inches per hour in some spots!

Above is an image of total rainfall received from early Saturday morning through late Sunday evening. Notice the large swath of 8 to 10 inches across south central Kentucky. Southern Warren county received just over 10 inches!

Below are precipitation maps from the 1st and 2nd of May:

MAY 1:

Precipitation May 1, 2010

MAY 2:

Precipitation May 2, 2010

Several locations set new records: 

Location (County)

2 day rainfall totals

Rank

All time 2 day total ending….

Bowling Green

9.67 inches

1st

 

Lexington

6.03 inches

6th

8.06   (August  2nd….1932)

Louisville

4.76 inches

20th

8.33   (March 1st….....1997)

Marrowbone  ( Cumberland)

8.93 inches

1st

 

Bardstown  (Nelson)

6.11 inches

2nd

7.46   ( March 2nd…..1997)

Bradfordsville  (Marion)

8.04 inches

1st

 

Richmond  (Madison)

8.50 inches

1st

 

Scottsville

8.86 inches

3rd

10.58 ( June 24th….1969)

Aberdeen  (Butler)

6.60 inches

10th

8.21   ( March 2nd..…1997)

Madison Water Plant (Jefferson Co, In)

7.29 inches

1st

 

Albany  (Clinton)

8.02 inches

1st

 

 

Flood crests:

River/Location Flood Stage Crest/Date Rank Highest Since
Stoner Creek at Paris 20 26.15 5/3 3rd 1997
S Fork Licking River at Cynthiana 20 21.92 5/4 9th 1997
Licking River at Blue Licks Springs 25 40.95 5/5 6th 1997
Kentucky River at Ford 26 32.30 5/3 10th 2003
Kentucky River at High Bridge 30 42.6 5/3 3rd 1978
Kentucky River at Frankfort 31 42.84 5/3 5th 1997
Rolling Fork River at Boston 35 50.74 5/5 6th 1997
Rough River at Dundee 25 28.72 5/3 14th 2008
Barren River at Bowling Green 28 43.69 5/3 5th 1962
Green River at Munfordville 28 51.88 5/4 5th 1984
Green River at Brownsville 18 37.50 5/5 5th 1984
Green River at Woodbury 33 49.52 5/5 6th 1984
Green River at Rochester 17 28.6 5/7
9th 1997

You can see on these "before" and "after" satellite images just how much the rivers swelled!

BEFORE:

AFTER:

 And, in addition to the incredible rains, there was even a tornado!


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