A Look Back at Historic Weather Events from the 1980s and 1990s

 Earlier this year we posted a news story about the most signficant weather events to affect eastern Kentucky from 2000 through 2009. Looking back a little further, here are some significant weather events from the 1980s and 1990s.

Major Flooding – May 7-10 1984 – Many millions of dollars of damage was reported due to flooding over southeast Kentucky, with as much damage reported as in the 1977 and 1957 floods. Roads and bridges were washed out. Hazard was briefly cut off by the high water, and 75 businesses were flooded, as the North Fork of the Kentucky River crested 12 feet above flood stage. At Fleming-Neon 100 families had to flee their homes, and several families were stranded in their homes by 6 to 8 feet of water. In Knox County patients had to be evacuated from the Red Bird Hospital. In Salyersville, water was 3 feet deep under the town’s only traffic light, and 30 businesses and homes had to be evacuated. In Pineville, roads were covered and bridges were washed out, while 7000 county residents were cut off by the flood waters. In Bell County 30 bridges were damaged and 1500 homes had to be evacuated. In Pikeville most roads were blocked by high water. Near Somerset 75 families had to be evacuated, and roads and streets were under water. Basement walls of 3 buildings caved in. In Jackson the most destructive flood in two decades resulted in millions of dollars of damage, with tremendous damage to businesses, houses, and mobile homes. In the Jackson area 1000 people had to be evacuated. In Floyd County there were damaged roads and buildings and 1000 people had to be evacuated.
Snowstorm - February 12-13, 1985 - The heaviest snowstorm of the season, accompanied by winds that whipped drifts as high as 20 feet, isolated hundreds of Kentuckians, especially those in the mountains of the east. Snowfall totals ranged from 1 to 4 inches over the western two-thirds of the state, but increased dramatically to 10 to 24 inches over the east third of Kentucky.
Breaks Interstate Park and a few other areas of southeast Kentucky reported 24 inches. (Thirteen inches fell at WFO Jackson.) Most of the snow fell within an 18 hour period, virtually bringing life to a standstill over eastern Kentucky. Roads were impassable as snow drifts ranged as high as 20 feet. Trees and power lines blocked roads, and road crews worked around the clock. Power remained out for as long as five days after the storm in some rural areas.
Hundreds of motorists were stranded. National Guard helicopters were used to locate stranded motorists, evacuate residents without electrical power, and scout road conditions. National Guardsman also played a vitally important role in helping to clear and open main roads.
Local emergency response groups throughout east Kentucky provided vital assistance to residents by delivering prescriptions, groceries, and fuel.

Snowstorm - April 2-5, 1987 - An extremely heavy late season snowstorm caused extensive problems in southeast Kentucky. The snow began falling mid-morning Thursday, April 2. The snow remained light through Thursday evening with 1 to 2 inches accumulation reported mainly along the Virginia-Kentucky border. By dawn, Friday April 3, four inches of snow had fallen over the mountains of far southeast Kentucky. The heavy snow continued and spread northward over eastern Kentucky, and by Friday evening accumulation totals ranged from 7 inches at the Jackson weather office to over 18 inches in the Kentucky counties along the Virginia border. The storm had virtually paralyzed southeast Kentucky by the evening of April 3, 1987. The heavy snow had broken many power lines, resulting in more than 18,000 residents without electricity, some until Monday April 6. Emergency shelters were set up at several locations for those without heat. Roads were very hazardous, and even impassable in some areas due to downed trees. A second surge of heavy snow fell Saturday afternoon, April 4th, through Sunday morning April 5. (The Jackson weather office reported a storm total of 17.8 inches.) By noon April 5th, the storm system had buried most of southeast Kentucky under 1 to 3 feet of snow, with the highest totals in Letcher and Pike Counties. Gusty northwest winds produced considerable blowing and drifting, with reports of drifts more than 10 feet deep in parts of Letcher County.

Tornado – May 9, 1988  - An F3 tornado touched down 2 miles west of Middlesboro and upset a mobile home, killing one person and injuring two others. The tornado then traveled east for 5 miles, passing through the city, doing massive damage to a 500 yard wide path across the entire downtown area. Buildings were damaged, vehicles were overturned, and power and phone lines were downed. A total of 15 people were injured. Damage to the downtown area was estimated in excess of 22 million dollars.

Flash Flooding and Flooding - October 16-17, 1989 - On the 16th and 17th of October, the remnants of Hurricane Jerry moved over the counties of southeast Kentucky producing rainfall amounts of 4 to 6 inches in a period of 18 to 24 hours. The result was a widespread flash flood event causing significant damage across the area. Dozens of roads and bridges were washed out, hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged, hundreds of families were evacuated and many vehicles were either damaged or washed away. The flash flooding eventually evolved into significant river flooding.
At Hazard in Perry County, many streets were closed as nearly 4 feet of water from the flooded North Fork of the Kentucky River ran through the town. Ten families were evacuated from the area. Damage estimates for Perry County exceeded $1 million.
In Letcher County, flood damage was expected to exceed $2 million. Countywide, 100 bridges and culverts were washed out and at least 50 homes received flood damage.
In Floyd County over 750 students and teachers were stranded in McDowell schools when water breached the banks of Frasure Creek above Left Beaver, pouring a torrent of water into the town and sending over two feet of water into several classrooms. In Pike County, officials estimated damage in excess of $2 million. Over 200 homes were flooded and many bridges and roads were washed out.
Blizzard - March 12-14, 1993 - One of the strongest storms of the century brought 6 to 30 inches of snow to eastern and southeastern Kentucky. Strong winds accompanied the snow, resulting in blizzard conditions and snow drifts of 6 to 10 feet. Interstate 75 was closed from Lexington to the Tennessee border and Interstate 64 was closed from Lexington to the West Virginia border. Both roads were closed for 2 days. Between 3,000 and 4,000 motorists were stranded along the highways. Emergency shelters were set up in Ashland and London. Some of the heavier snowfall amounts were: Perry County, 30 inches; Pikeville, 24 inches, Ashland, 22 inches; and London, 22 inches. At the Jackson Weather Office 19.8 inches fell in 24 hours. At Hazard the 24 hour snowfall record for the state of Kentucky was set , with 25 inches. In the higher terrain of Harlan County, 4 to 5 feet of snow were reported around Mary Ellen. In Whitley County a man froze to death when he tried to walk from his home into Corbin.
Snowstorm followed by Record Cold - January 16-19, 1994 - The major winter storm dumped up to an inch of ice and anywhere from 6 to 26 inches of snow. Maysville reported 22 inches, and 15.4 inches fell at the Jackson Weather Office, with 15.2 inches falling within a 24 hour period. Drifts as deep as 10 feet were reported in some locations. All state, interstate, and federal highways were officially closed by a state of emergency for 5 days. Thousands of motorists and trucks were stranded, and dozens had to be rescued by the National Guard. Some towns were completely cut off by the snow, and were accessible only by helicopter. On the 19th record cold invaded the region. Low temperatures included -35 at Gray Hawk, -32 at Somerset, -31 at Grayson, -25 at London and the Quicksand agricultural station near Jackson, and -18 at the Jackson National Weather Service Office.
Ice Storm - February 10-11, 1994 - A major ice storm affected most of Kentucky. Freezing rain, heavy at times, buried most of the state in up to 3 inches of ice. The ice accumulated at nearly ½ inch an hour in many locations. The storm hit south central and southeast Kentucky the hardest. Laurel County roads, coated with over 3 inches of ice and blocked by fallen trees, were nearly impassable. Across the state at least 190,000 customers were left without electricity. Power outages were reported in 53 counties, and 22 counties declared emergencies, as power substations froze and lines snapped as trees fell on them. There were numerous minor injuries as people fell on the ice. Many secondary roads across the state were closed for several days as trees and power lines were removed. In some of the hardest hit counties the power was not restored for over a week.
Severe Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Hail, and Flash Flooding – May 18-19, 1995 -Several rounds of severe thunderstorms swept across eastern Kentucky during the day and night of May 18, producing widespread wind and hail damage, along with localized flash flooding and tornadoes. Hail of   2.75 inches in diameter fell in Letcher and Pike Counties, hail reached 2 inch diameter in Leslie County, and 1.75 inch diameter hail occurred in Pulaski, Breathitt, Owsley, and Perry Counties. Tornadoes touched down in Rowan, Pulaski, Laurel, Clay and Breathitt Counties. 
Snowstorm - January 6-7, 1996 - A major winter storm brought heavy snow to all of east Kentucky. By noon EST on the 6th, 3 to 5 inches of snow had fallen across the region. Heavier snow began around 1500 EST on the 6th, when 5 to 6 inches were on the ground. Amateur radio operators reported 9 inches across much of southeast Kentucky at 2100 EST, and 10 to 11 inches by 2300 EST. By 1100 EST on the 7th, 14 to 16 inch amounts were common, with 15 to 17 inches covering much of the area by 1300 EST. Total snowfall reported at 1645 EST on the 7th ranged from 14 to 22 inches, with the heaviest amounts in Pike County. Where rain and freezing rain initially fell in Bell and Harlan Counties, total amounts averaged between 6 and 14 inches. 15.7 inches fell at the Jackson Weather Office, with 11.2 inches falling within a 24 hour period.
Severe Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Flash Flooding and Flooding – March 1-3, 1997 -Repeated rounds of severe thunderstorms and heavy rain affected eastern Kentucky, with rounds of heavy rain falling during the early morning of March 1, the afternoon of March 1, and again during the overnight of March 1-2. Additional heavy rain fell on March 3. Twenty-four hour rainfall amounts exceeded 9 inches in Bath County and 10 inches in Menifee County. The heavy rain resulted in widespread flash flooding. Flash flooding occurred in Menifee, Elliott, Montgomery, Bath, Fleming, Rowan, Powell, Morgan, Estill, Pulaski, Wayne, Bell, Pike and Letcher Counties. Numerous roads and homes were flooded, and widespread damage was reported. The Mountain Parkway at Clay City had to be shut down. Flash flooding evolved into river flooding over northern parts of eastern Kentucky, with the Licking River below Cave Run Lake reaching its highest level in history along the Fleming-Bath County line. The storms also spawned two tornadoes in Powell County and one tornado in Menifee County. In Powell County the first tornado hit during the afternoon of March 1, causing one half million dollars in damage. The second tornado hit Powell County at 120 AM on March 2, causing an additional 1.3 million dollars in damage. The flash flooding and flooding caused damages exceeding $9 million in eastern Kentucky.
Snowstorm - February 3-6, 1998 - A major snowstorm affected eastern Kentucky from the evening of February 3 into the morning of February 6. Snowfall totals for the storm ranged from around 4 inches in valley locations near the Virginia border to as much as 2 feet in areas from Whitley City to Flemingsburg.
The greatest snowfalls during the storm occurred in two distinct periods. The first round of heavy snow, which affected nearly all of eastern Kentucky, began during the evening of February 3, and extended into February 4. Heavy snow tapered off during the night of February 4-5, but redeveloped again during the afternoon of February 5 and extended into the early morning of February 6. This second round of heavy snow mainly affected the northern half of eastern Kentucky.
The first round of heavy snow resulted in a general 10 to 18 inches in areas along and west of a line from Williamsburg to Morehead, with amounts decreasing to around 4 inches in valley locations near the Virginia border. The second round of heavy snow brought 4 inches or more to areas generally along and north of a line from Irvine to Phelps. The second round of heavy snow resulted in as much as 10 inches in areas from Frenchburg to near Flemingsburg. The first round of heavy snow was extremely wet, with snow to water ratios of 6:1. The snow to water ratio was about 10 to 1 during the second round of heavy snow.
In most areas the greatest snow depths occurred on February 6. Some snow depths reported on February 6: Wallingford 25 inches; Frenchburg 24 inches, Stearns 23 inches; Mt. Sterling 22 inches, Owingsville 20 inches; London 19 inches; Campton 16 inches; Flemingsburg, Stanton, and Mt. Vernon - 15 inches; Morehead, Monticello, Sandy Hook, and McKee - 14 inches; Somerset 12 inches; Irvine, West Liberty and WFO Jackson - 11 inches; Williamsburg, Manchester, Salyersville, and Booneville - 10 inches; Beattyville and Inez - 8 inches; Paintsville 7 inches; Prestonsburg 6 inches; Racoon and Majestic - 5 inches; Hindman, Barbourville, Hyden and Skyline - 4 inches.
At WFO Jackson 17.6 inches fell from February 3 to February 6, with the maximum snow depth of 11 inches occurring on February 6. The greatest 24 hour amount at WFO Jackson during the storm was 9.7 inches from February 3 to February 4.
Because of the extremely wet nature of the snow, damage from this storm was extensive. The most widespread damage occurred in a swath of the Daniel Boone National Forest from Whitley City to Frenchburg. Power outages were widespread as falling trees brought down power lines and poles. Power outages affected 100% of the electric customers in many counties. As many as 9000 customers were still without power on February 9, and some areas were without power for 2 weeks. Numerous roads were blocked by trees, and bulldozers had to be used to reach people who were stranded. There were numerous buildings which collapsed under the weight of the snow, including trailer homes, houses, barns and commercial buildings. One industrial building near Monticello sustained $1.5 million in damage when the roof collapsed, and machinery and stock were damaged.
Many people remained in unheated homes during the extensive power outages. A woman in McCreary County died in her home as a result of a hypothermia induced heart attack, and a man in Wolfe County died from hypothermia in his home. One man in McCreary County was injured when a carport collapsed on him.
Severe Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Flash Flooding and Flooding – April 16-19, 1998 - Severe thunderstorms on the evening of April 16 produced wind damage, hail and tornadoes. Two tornadoes touched down, one in Rockcastle County, and another that moved from Wayne into McCreary County. The tornado in Wayne and McCreary County had an intermittent path length of 15 miles. This tornado downed trees, damaged a barn, several outbuildings, houses and mobile homes, and overturned a vehicle. The thunderstorms also brought extremely heavy rain, and this resulted in widespread flash flooding from the 16th to the 17th. Numerous roads were flooded, and some roads and bridges were washed out. There were also several massive mud and rock slides. In Clay County some people had to escape the rising waters by climbing from the windows of their homes. A security guard at coal tipple in Clay County had to be rescued by a helicopter. Corbin, in Whitley County, was especially hard hit. Forty to fifty businesses in Corbin sustained flood damage. Local residents described the flood in downtown Corbin as the worst since 1957. Flash flooding occurred in Knox, Laurel, McCreary, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Wayne, Whitley, Bell, Clay, Harlan, Lee, Leslie, Owsley, Breathitt, Knott, Letcher, and Perry. The flash flooding evolved into widespread river flooding in Kentucky and Cumberland river basins.
Additional heavy rain fell from April 18 to April 19 resulting in additional widespread flash flooding and river flooding. The second round of flash flooding affected many of the same areas that were hit on April 16 to 17, but also affected Floyd, Magoffin, Johnson, Martin and Pike Counties. Flooding was especially severe along the Right and Left Forks of Beaver Creek in Floyd County in this second event. Approximately 229 homes were affected by flash flooding in Floyd County, and numerous residents had to be evacuated. The second round of rain also resulted in rising waters on rivers, and Main Street in Hazard had to be closed for a time on April 19.

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