Compared to its partner offices across the country, NOAA’s National Weather Service in Paducah, Kentucky is relatively young. In existence for a little over 20 years, WFO Paducah actually had its origins at a small weather office in Cairo, Illinois. In 1984, the National Weather Service opened a new facility at Paducah’s Barkley Regional Airport to improve the radar coverage in the immediate tri-state area. Besides severe weather warnings, the staff of six was responsible for taking hourly surface weather observations, launching weather balloons twice a day, and programming weather information on three area NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts.
By the early 1990s, plans were already in the works to build a new facility in Paducah. Ground breaking for the new building took place in October 1993. By February 1995, the entire staff occupied the current facility, presently located on Old Highway 60 adjacent to the airport. On February 28, 1995, 21 charter members of WFO Paducah adopted a mission statement that would carry them into the new millennium. The mission: “Striving constantly for public service excellence, we shall in team unison, through the full utilization of our science knowledge and state-of-the-art equipment, dedicate ourselves to best serve the people we protect through accurate communication, informative products and statements, and timely warnings.”
With the new office came the WSR-88D and a gradual increase in warning and forecast responsibilities. In 1995, WFO Paducah acquired several counties from the former WSO in Evansville, Indiana. Later on, the WFO assumed responsibility for the complete forecast package, initiated a new fire weather forecast program, and grew its NOAA Weather Radio network to 11 transmitters. The office has also been the scene of ever changing technology with the installation of a slew of new computer equipment over the past 10 years.
Below is a timeline of significant events that have shaped the history of WFO Paducah through the years. We will no doubt add to this list as we acquire additional information.
April 1984 - Weather Service Director Richard Hallgren announced that Barkley Regional Airport in Paducah, Kentucky was chosen as the site for a new WSO. Paducah was strategically chosen over Bowling Green for the benefit of improving radar coverage in the immediate area. At the time, the office in Cairo was slated to remain open with one employee manning the station. That office has since closed.
August 1984 - The WSR-74C was installed southeast of the new office site on airport property.
September 2, 1984 - WSO Paducah’s original full staff reported for duty, including John Osbourne (OIC), John Borgia, Stanley Hobbs, James Smith, Marvin Shore, and Edward Strouhal. Robert Watson joined the crew a few weeks later.
October 1, 1984 - WSO Paducah became fully operational. The original WSO was located in a double-wide trailer next to the air traffic control tower of Paducah’s Barkley Regional Airport. Accompanying the trailer was a variety of surface observing equipment, a generator building, and eventually an upper-air building.
October 1, 1984 - WSO Paducah assumed responsibility for warning issuance and message dissemination over NOAA Weather Radio for the counties of western Kentucky covered by station KIH-46 in Mayfield/Farmington.
October 1, 1985 - WSO Paducah assumed responsibility for warning issuance and message dissemination over NOAA Weather Radio for the counties of southern Illinois and southeast Missouri covered by stations WXM-49 in Marion/Goreville and WXL-47 in Sikeston/Dexter.
May 15, 1986 - WSO Paducah experienced its first significant tornado outbreak over southeast Missouri that evening. The office received its first NOAA Unit Citation for its warning services that day.
December 15, 1988 - The Salem, Illinois upper-air program was relocated to Paducah.
Summer 1993 - Significant flooding on the Mississippi River kept the relatively small staff unusually busy.
October 12, 1993 - A huge media day, the ground-breaking ceremony for the new WFO took place at 10 a.m. Construction of the new WFO began in earnest in February and March 1994 as the severe weather shelter (break room) and building power generator were installed. Work on the actual structure took place in April, May, and June of that year.
July 12, 1994 - By July, all outside facility work was completed, and the sign for the new WFO was hung.
October 12, 1994 - AFOS (Automation of Field Operations and Services) arrived and was installed.
November 8, 1994 - Concrete was poured for the base of the WSR-88D.
November 15, 1994 - Mid November was the official occupancy date of WFO Paducah, although some personnel remained in the old trailer. The actual move for the entire staff did not occur until over three months later.
November 23, 1994 - Another big media day, the WSR-88D dome was raised atop the newly constructed tower.
December 16, 1994 - Construction on the entire WSR-88D project was completed.
February 6-10, 1995 - After launching weather balloons for over six years, WFO Paducah transferred this responsibility to WFO Lincoln, IL.
February 9-10, 1995 – Paducah’s WSR-88D passed the 72-hour acceptance test. It was quickly put to use for a light snow event that covered much of the area.
February 15, 1995 - This is considered move-in date for most employees. Jim Keysor issued the first product ever from the new WFO facility. This product, a Short-Term Forecast, was disseminated at 9:05 a.m. CST.
February 29, 1995 - The last of WFO Paducah’s employees moved into the new facility from the trailer. Charter members included Beverly Poole (MIC), Robert Watson, John Borgia, James Howard, Deanna Lindstrom, David Humphrey, Mary Lamm, James Keysor, Linda Engebretson, Rick Shanklin, Martin Luecke, Patrick Spoden, Michael York, Ronald Fields, Danny Duncan, Paul Witsaman, Christopher Horne, Doug Boyette, Christopher Noles, Quay Kendrick, & Sondra Shearouse.
March 1, 1995 – Paducah’s ASOS (Automated Surface Observing System) was commissioned.
September 13, 1995 – Paducah’s WSR-88D (Doppler radar) was commissioned.
September 1995 - WFO Paducah assumed responsibility of additional Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky counties formerly in the county warning area of WSO Evansville, IN.
April 19, 1996 - An outbreak of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes proved to be the first significant severe weather event for the new WFO.
March 1997 - Significant flooding on the Ohio River challenged the relatively new hydrology program at WFO Paducah.
January 5, 1999 - WFO Paducah assumed complete forecast responsibility for all 58 counties in its forecast area and issued its first full Zone Forecast Product at 400 a.m. CST.
January 3, 2000 - An F3 tornado devastated portions of Owensboro, Kentucky. The office was awarded the Department of Commerce Silver Medal for its life-saving warnings and statements issued during this event.
March 18, 2000 - Remembering the past to promote a safer tomorrow, WFO Paducah participated in the 75-year commemoration of the 1925 Tri-State Tornado.
April 2002 - A deadly outbreak of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes spanned nearly a week, with the most significant tornado ravaging portions of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana early in the morning of April 28.
May 2003 - Another fatal outbreak of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes occurred over a multi-day period. Most noteworthy were the tornadoes that devastated portions of southeast Missouri near Jackson and areas of southern Illinois north and west of Metropolis on the evening of May 6. WFO Paducah received the coveted Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award for its performance during this event.
December 16, 2004 - The Evansville Indiana radar, KVWX, was commissioned. The new radar provides improved weather radar coverage over southern Indiana and Western Kentucky. The Evansville radar brings to 121 the number of radars operated by the National Weather Service. An additional 34 weather radars are operated in the United States by the FAA and Air Force.
December 22, 2004 - A historical winter storm blanketed the entire 58 county forecast area with heavy snow. Many locations received 1 to 2 feet of total snow accumulation.