On July 19, 2023, slow-moving thunderstorms dumped over 254 mm (10 inches) of rain in western Kentucky, prompting a state of emergency declaration due to severe flooding that instigated multiple evacuations and led to extensive road damage.
254 mm to 381 mm (10 to 15 inches) of rainfall drenched towns across western Kentucky on July 19, causing the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Paducah to warn of a potentially catastrophic flash flood damage threat in Graves, Carlisle, Ballard, and Hickman counties. These counties, all located just north of the Tennessee border, were the worst hit.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency in the affected regions, stating the move would “allow us to better support our fellow Kentuckians during this difficult time.” The governor also urged the residents to stay alert and safe as more rain was expected later in the day.
In Wingo, a town located approximately 16 km (10 miles) north of the Tennessee-Kentucky border, the deluge was particularly severe. A whopping 123.4 mm (4.86 inches) of rain fell between midnight and 02:15 local time, leading to multiple water rescues.
Videos shared by storm chasers painted a vivid picture of the water levels, showing how the rising floodwaters reached the wheels of several parked trucks and the porches of numerous homes. The residents of the area were shocked by the intensity of the rain. “Just a steady rain…[It came] pretty fast,” a Wingo resident named Tommy told a storm chaser.
A similar situation unfolded in Mayfield, a city still recovering from the catastrophic EF4 tornado that struck in December 2021. Emergency services were conducting numerous water rescues as floodwaters rose rapidly. “Major flooding like many have never seen is occurring,” stated the Graves County Sheriff’s Office in a Facebook update.
In response to the situation, a shelter was opened at His House Ministries to provide refuge for those affected by the floods. Meanwhile, many roads were rendered impassable due to the water levels, with some roads even resembling deep streams or rivers.
According to the Kentucky State Mesonet, a statewide weather and climate monitoring network, Mayfield received an astounding 286.2 mm (11.28 inches) of rain in less than 24 hours on July 19. If confirmed by the NWS, this rainfall total could break the existing 24-hour rainfall record for the state, which stands at 266.7 mm (10.48 inches), recorded in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 1, 1997.
The floodwaters caused widespread damage, completely washing out Oak Grove Road in Graves County. According to WPSD Meteorologist Noah Bergren, the moderate drought that had been afflicting the region likely exacerbated the effects of the flood. As the parched ground was unable to absorb the sudden influx of water, it turned roadways into raging rivers, washing out multiple roads in the process.
1 State of emergency declared in Kentucky following devastating flooding – AccuWeather – July 19/20, 2023
Featured image credit: Graves County Sheriff’s Office
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