The National Weather Service Forecast Office in Jackson, Kentucky opened on January 1, 1981. With the official 30 year anniversary of the office taking place on January 1, 2011 we thought it would be a good time to look back at the major weather events that have affected eastern Kentucky over the past 3 decades. Following is a chronological list of events from the 1980s through 2009. A list of the major weather events for 2010 will be posted in late December or early January.
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 feel 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 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.
London Tornado – June 2, 2001 - During the early evening of June 2nd 2001, an F-2 tornado with wind speeds estimated at 135-155 miles per hour touched down in the populous city of London, KY in Laurel County. During the 28 minutes that this tornado was on the ground it traveled 7 miles, was as wide as a football field, minorly injured 10 people, and did an estimated 17.1 million dollars in property damage. When the twister initially touched down, the Carnaby Square shopping center was the first to feel its wrath. In fact, the tornado remained nearly stationary in the parking lot of the shopping center for nearly 4 minutes! During this time, the tornado hurled vehicles and actually scoured the parking lot pavement. The storm finally began to move and then lifted just before crossing U.S. 25. It touched down again along Bellinger Street where several homes were damaged and then lifted again as it approached the Rolling Acres Subdivision. Finally, the twister touched down once more near a ball park where 4 teams were playing. Miraculously, everyone escaped harm, despite cars being tossed in the parking lot and the fencing around the ball field being torn away. 3 of the teams took refuge in the concession stand while the 4th team survived the storm inside the dugout. After the storm, emergency management official reported 10 minor injuries, with the worst being a broken arm. Overall, 18 residences were destroyed, 21 received major damage, and 84 receive minor damage. 26 businesses were majorly damaged, along with 2 churches, and 33 vehicles. This was the strongest tornado to affect east Kentucky this decade.
Softball Sized Hail – May 1, 2002 - During the afternoon and evening of May 1st, 2002 a supercell traveled from just north of St. Louis, Missouri southeastward through east Kentucky, before collapsing in the extreme eastern portions of Tennessee. During this time, the unusually long track supercell produced a steady swath of wind damage and dropped very large hail. In fact, the supercell dropped anomalously large hail as big as softballs in Rockcastle, Pulaski, and Laurel counties. Numerous homes and automobiles were considerably damaged as the giant hailstones fell. Estimates from the three counties hardest hit indicate that 12.5 million dollars in property damage occurred, along with an additional 4 million in crop damage. In Rockcastle County alone, over 400 homes and 900 vehicles were damaged. Other counties that were also hit hard by the storms were Jackson, Clay, Leslie, and Harlan.
Valentine’s Day Ice Storm and Flooding – February 14-16, 2003
The Valentine’s Day of 2003 was not all that romantic in east Kentucky as heavy rain fell from the 14th through the 16th. During this time, 3 to 7 inches of rain was dumped across east Kentucky, resulting in serious mudslides and flooding. Also, 1.5 to 2 inches of ice accumulated, mainly north of the Mountain Parkway. Initially, flash flooding was the main concern as excess runoff from the copious amounts of rain flooded low lying areas and urban areas. Then as rain continued, the flash flooding turned to more widespread areal flooding as excess runoff continued and streams and creeks backed up due to the amount of water flowing through them. Finally, river flooding occurred as all of the water from the tributaries spilled into the rivers. Moderate to major flooding occurred in the Kentucky, Cumberland, Big Sandy, and Licking River basins, with crests in many locations the highest they had been since May of 1984. Also, with a coating of 1 to 2 inches of ice on trees, power lines, roads, and structures, widespread power outages occurred and travel was nearly impossible. Overall, estimations to property damage exceeded 20 million dollars. 24 of the 33 counties in the Jackson NWS’s jurisdiction were declared Federal Disaster Areas mainly as a result of this storm.
Memorial Day 2004 Severe Thunderstorms and Flooding – May 30-31, 2004
On the afternoon of Sunday May 30th, 2004 a warm front was draped across east Kentucky, creating a boundary between warm and moist air over the region and cooler, drier air to the northeast. These ingredients created the perfect environment for numerous supercell thunderstorms to track along this boundary, causing tree damage and dumping very heavy rain over the region. Initially, flash flooding was the concern, however another wave of storms moved through the region as a powerful cold front swept through during the early morning hours of Monday, May 31st. This new round of rainfall, combined with the rain from the previous afternoon and evening was too much to handle and very serious flash flood, areal flood, and river flooding conditions occurred. To top this all off, widespread thunderstorm wind damage was reported along with 6 confirmed tornadoes. Overall, an estimated 33 million dollars in property damage was caused by the flooding alone, with additional impacts due to wind and tornado damage. Shortly after the event through June 2nd, all three forks of the Kentucky River flooded with crests anywhere from 1 to 3 feet over flood stage. The Red River at Clay City also flooded during this time, cresting over 5 feet above flood stage. Overall, 31 of the 33 counties in the Jackson NWS’s jurisdiction were declared Federal Disaster Areas mainly as a result of this storm.
Tornadoes and Subsequent Freeze – April 3-10, 2007
April 2007 was a very wild month as it experienced a significant tornado outbreak followed by a disastrous freeze. On April 3rd, 2007, the 33-year anniversary of the 1974 Super Outbreak of tornadoes, a powerful storm system moved across east Kentucky dropping numerous twisters, along with damaging straight-line winds and large hail. Overall, five tornadoes were confirmed with Pulaski and Harlan Counties being hit by two twisters each and Laurel County being hit by one. Here is a time line of the events that occurred:
8:00 pm: Storms make their way into eastern Kentucky, with numerous trees down in Rockcastle County from straight-line winds.
8:37 pm: An EF-1 tornado moved out of Casey County into Pulaski County near the town of Magnum. The tornado was on the ground into Pulaski County for eight tenths of a mile, long enough to tear the roof off of a barn and just missed the Somerset NOAA Weather Radio broadcast tower.
8:43 pm: A second EF-1 tornado with wind speeds around 90 mph briefly touched down in a wooded area one mile southeast of Hogue in Pulaski County. This tornado was briefly on the ground for a tenth of a mile and was 25 yards wide. Numerous trees were uprooted; however no structures were damaged by this tornado.
9:00 pm: Nickel to Quarter-sized hail begins to fall, with Pulaski and Wayne counties getting the biggest hail.
9:30 pm: A high-end EF-1 tornado with winds around 105 mph occurred in Laurel County along Highway 80 near London. Near the start of the path, a mobile home was moved off its foundation, and numerous trees were snapped or uprooted. Toward the end of the two mile long damage path, a store roof was completely removed then set back down as the tornado roared overhead.
10:19 pm: History was made as Harlan County experienced the effects of its very first confirmed tornado. A weak EF-0 tornado with winds around 80 mph damaged a maintenance building and heavily damaged a trailer roof two miles south of the city of Harlan.
10:27 pm: Mother Nature did not wait long to introduce Harlan County’s second tornado. Another weak EF-0 tornado with winds estimated at 75 mph destroyed an old barn and damaged some outbuildings near Popeville in Harlan county.
Despite many tornadoes in the month of April, a much larger group of people were impacted economically by the April freeze. Following the same storm system that brought most of the April tornadoes, was a blast of cold air that lingered for 6 straight days between April 5th and 10th. The taste of arctic air caused billions of dollars in damage nationwide. In east Kentucky alone, an estimated 2.7 million dollars in damage was done to the wheat crop and 3.2 million dollars in damage was done to the fruit crop. During the event, the lowest temperatures dipped down into the teens, which cooperative observers measured at Island City, Barbourville, and Stearns, all recording 17 degrees. On April 7th, many areas were not able to climb above freezing.
Many temperature records were set during the chilly 6 day stretch. Perhaps the most impressive record broken at the Jackson weather office was the longest run of consecutive days in April with temperatures recorded at or below freezing. The previous record of 5 days, set back in April 1987, was bested by one day as temperatures dipped below freezing from the 5th through the 10th. The all time lowest April temperature for the London Corbin Airport was recorded on the 8th with 19 degrees. This broke the previous record of 21 degrees set back on April 7th 1982. One-and-four tenths of an inch of snow fell at the Jackson National Weather Service office on April 6th, which set the new daily snowfall record for that day.
Drought - 2007 - 2008
An 11 month streak of below normal precipitation, which started at the end of 2006, helped precipitation shortages continue throughout 2007. Precipitation deficits, especially in areas bordering Tennessee and Virginia, were more than 20 inches by late October with all of eastern Kentucky in extreme to exceptional drought conditions. Exceptional drought is the highest category of drought that a region can be in and can be measured by large scale hydrologic, agricultural, and economic impacts.
A water shortage watch was in effect for all counties in eastern Kentucky, with a few counties under water shortage warnings. There were concerns on reservoirs running dry and water having to be transported into the area. The drought of 2007 was agriculturally devastating as well. Tobacco crops, along with other crops, suffered as the lack of water and extreme heat took their toll. Cattle were unable to graze in pastures as the grass died from the heat and drought. Dry conditions throughout the late summer also had an impact on forest fire danger. Experts predicted an especially bad forest fire season across east Kentucky, however, a few timely rainfall events helped to reduce the threat.
At the Jackson weather office, February 2007 was 2.5 inches below normal which made it the driest February ever. Also, May 2007 was 3.3 inches below normal for precipitation, making it the driest May on record. For London, August and September of 2007 were both 2.9 inches below normal making them the driest months on record, respectively. 2007 will go down as the second driest year at Jackson since record keeping began in 1981.
Unfortunately, the dry spell continued into 2008. In fact, both the Jackson National Weather Service and the London Corbin Airport experienced below normal precipitation in 9 of the 12 months of 2008. Furthermore, eight of the nine months that were below normal recorded deficits of greater than 1 inch. An especially brutal stretch of dry weather came from August 2008 through November 2008 where eastern Kentucky set many records for a lack of precipitation.
Relief finally came on December 2008 as some very beneficial 1 inch plus rainfalls occurred. In fact, December ‘08 ended up nearly 3 inches above normal at Jackson, putting a small dent in the damage done from late Summer into early Fall.
Along with the dry conditions, droughts are also characterized by extreme heat much of the time. August of 2007 was no exception. The month of August, 2007 was hampered by a heat wave that set 56 records of daily, monthly, or all time marks at the Jackson National Weather Service and London-Corbin Airport. The drought conditions across much of Kentucky combined with a lingering high pressure area allowed temperatures to soar to dangerous levels. A lack of consistent rainfall dried out the surface soils, which allowed them to heat up much quicker. This fact, combined with clear skies due to a persistent ridge of high pressure, allowed for maximum heating by the sun. August 16th was the hottest day of the year, and helped set the most notable record of the August heat wave with a 102 degree reading at the London-Corbin Airport; an all time high temperature record for that location. Another very impressive mark was set when London smashed the record string of days above 90 degrees with 20 in a row. The previous mark was 13, which was set back in August of 1993. Along with these two records, London was able to record the warmest month of August and the warmest summer of all time.
The Jackson weather office ended the month of August, 2007 with an average daily high temperature of 90.3 degrees, six degrees warmer than the average. Eight daily high temperature records were either tied or broken at Jackson, which was just enough to make August 2007 the second warmest August ever recorded. Overall, the impact of the high temperatures took their toll on east Kentucky, both physically and economically, as already exceptional drought conditions were exasperated by the extreme heat. Agricultural crops were affected, along with soaring energy bills for folks trying to keep cool from the sweltering heat. According to the National Centers for Climate Diagnostics at least 51 people died in August from heat related causes across the nation.
Ice Storm – January 28-29, 2009
A devastating ice storm impacted much of the commonwealth of Kentucky in late January of 2009 and went down in the record books as having caused the biggest power outage of any event in state history. By early in the morning on Wednesday January 28th, precipitation was falling in the form of rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow across east Kentucky as a layer of warmer air just above the ground and freezing temperatures at the surface allowed for a perfect ice setup. According to the Public Service Commission of the state of Kentucky, at the peak of the event on January 29th just under 770,000 customers had lost power. Although portions of extreme eastern Kentucky were spared, areas north of the Hal Rogers Parkway were hit with at least a quarter inch or higher of ice. In east Kentucky, locations hardest hit were along and north of the Mountain Parkway where as much as a half an inch to 1 inch of ice accumulated, along with 2 to 4 inches of sleet and snow. The accumulated snow, sleet and ice was quick to weigh on trees and power lines and it did not take long for the impact to be felt as power outages commenced. Also, ice, sleet and snow covered roads made travel virtually impossible. Flooding was a problem along the Red River near Clay City and roads had to be closed as runoff, ice and debris caused the river to overflow its banks. 21 of the 33 counties in the Jackson National Weather Service’s jurisdiction were declared federal disaster areas for public assistance.
Record Flash Flood - May 8 -9, 2009
Arguably the worst flash flooding event this decade, the evening of May 8th and 9th has left a lingering impact on portions of east Kentucky. During a 14 hour span from the afternoon of Friday May 8th through the late morning of Saturday May 9th, 4 to 6 inches of rain fell from Jackson County eastward to Pike County. Initially, a complex of severe storms rolled through the area on Friday afternoon, however the rainfall didn’t stop there. A nearly stationary boundary set up south of the Ohio River and nearly perfectly bisected the state of Kentucky from west to east. Strong southwest flow around the 3000 to 5000 foot level allowed ample amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to pile into Kentucky before being stopped by the boundary. The result was a steady “train of rain” that continuously moved from west to east across the state.
The area that received the most rainfall was the west to east line from McKee in Jackson County, through Booneville in Owsley County, to just south of Jackson in Breathitt County, eastward to Pikeville. One thunderstorm after another kept pounding this area and eventually 4 to 6 inches of rain had fallen. The already saturated grounds could not absorb anymore water, and with the steep and rugged terrain of east Kentucky flash flooding commenced from excess runoff. Shortly thereafter, small creeks and streams overflowed their banks as the overwhelming amounts of water kept coming. The end result was the destruction of many homes, buildings and infrastructure as the devastating power of water was shown. Luckily, no lives were lost, however hundreds of water rescues had to be performed. In Floyd County alone, 281 water rescues were executed.
In many locations, creeks and streams reached their highest crests. Interviews with local residents in Breathitt County revealed that this was the highest Cane Creek in the western part of the county had ever been in a 31 year memory. Also, Quicksand Creek in the central part of the county was the highest it had ever been in memory as far as pure floodwater coming down the creek was concerned. A few residents remembered a time when the portion of Quicksand Creek near the North Fork of the Kentucky River had been higher due to back water from the river. 13 of the 33 counties in the Jackson National Weather Service’s jurisdiction were declared federal disaster areas for either public or individual assistance.
Snowstorm – December 18-20, 2009
A powerful surface low pressure system tracked from the northern Gulf of Mexico to the southeast Atlantic Coast on Friday December 18th, to just off the North Carolina coast by Friday night. Meanwhile, an upper level low pressure system swept across the lower Ohio Valley. With a relatively cold air mass already in place across east Kentucky, the stage was set for the largest snowfall in more than 10 years across the eastern part of the Commonwealth. Heavy snow began along the Tennessee border by mid afternoon with as much as 2 inches falling per hour in some locations. Precipitation changed back over to rain by early evening in many locations, however shortly before midnight, the rain changed back over to snow. When the sun came up on Saturday the 19th, much of east Kentucky was blanketed with 4 to 8 inches of heavy and wet snow and 8 to 12 inches of snow was evident in the extreme southeastern counties along the Virginia border. In the highest elevations along the Virginia border, as much as 16 to 20 inches of snow fell. The light snow continued for much of the day Saturday and Saturday night with total snowfall throughout the entire event at the Jackson Julian Carroll Airport of 13.9 inches. The impact of the snow was catastrophic as the weight overwhelmed and downed trees onto roadways and power lines. Numerous major roadways were closed for periods of time, including U.S. 92 in McCreary county and U.S. 23 in Pike county. Power outages were also widespread. The Public Service Commission in Kentucky stated that at the height of the event, 116,000 customers were without power in east Kentucky, and by 10 am Sunday the 20th, approximately 93,000 customers were still without power.
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