What we all just experienced I honestly believe will be one of those storms that will be remembered and talked about for years to come. Five, ten, fifteen years from now, many will be talking to others who lived in the Paducah region and western Kentucky in July 2023.
“Remember that great flood and lightning storm?”
The list of impressive achievements includes a new all-time record for 24 hours of rainfall in the state of Kentucky, which was set in the Graves County mesonet, west of the city of Mayfield. It will have to be certified by the state climatologist, but that has to happen eventually.
Above you can see the strip of excessive rainfall. The predictions in the days leading up to and the night before were unfortunately quite well verified. We discussed at length that a stalled border with a southwesterly wind beating into it would produce nearly 12-hour storms, and it did.
The reason for the storms and unprecedented rainfall was that the storms had an uncanny supply of moisture from the Gulf. A big part of that is that the Northern Hemisphere pattern has been erratic this year, and that’s just the latest by-product of that. Think of that image above as a production line. One storm forms, then the air blowing northwest to southeast carries the storm along the border to the southeast, and another one forms and does the same. That process was repeated all night and morning.
Further inspection of daily rain totals only from July 19, 2023 from midnight local time.
I think it’s fair to put this event in the top list of all-time weather events and storms in the history of this region. When you think of the “greats,” you think of these, just to name a few.
These are some of the biggest notable storms and events:
- Extreme heat and drought of the 1920s and early 1930s.
- The 1925 Tri State tornado, the deadliest in U.S. history.
- The historic Ohio River Flood of 1937.
- The blizzard of January 1978.
- The 1982 Marion, Illinois, tornado.
- The blizzard of December 2004.
- The ice storm of 2009.
- The 2009 Super Derecho in southern Illinois.
- The remnants of Hurricane Ike in 2008.
- The river flood in the spring of 2011.
- Summer 2011 heat index (multiple 116°F-117°F).
- The extreme drought and heat of the summer of 2012.
- The 2017 Perryville, Missouri, tornado.
- The December 2021 tornado outbreak.
- The extreme Arctic outbreak of December 23 (-21°F wind chill).
- The March 2023 bomb cyclone, which had record sea level pressure.
Is the record flood of July 2023 on the list? Maybe. I think it should. But it depends who you ask. Here’s why I think this event is now in talks for one of the all-timer “greats” in its own right:
- More than 30,000 lightning bolts over our four-state region in just one night.
- 6 to 12 inches of rain, an event with a recurrence interval of every 100-200 years.
- The 0.5% chance of this type of event occurring in a given year.
- The first-ever flash flood emergency issued by the Paducah National Weather Service for the Western Kentucky Purchasing Area.
- 2.32 inches of rain in one hour is the third highest one-hour total in Paducah’s observational data.
- It set a new Kentucky state record for 24-hour rainfall.
Paducah also achieved the second highest daily rainfall total in history. That’s very impressive, especially since it’s July and the rain isn’t coming from a tropical storm or remnant hurricane, where in history you’ll find most of our days with six inches or more of rain.
Worst of all, this extreme flooding hit areas still recovering from another natural disaster, the deadly EF-4 tornado of December 10, 2021, which hit similar spots. Sometimes Mother Nature can play a cruel game.
Either way, this will be a storm we’ll be talking about for a while, whether it’s from the profuse lightning or the extreme rain.