Kentucky Experiences Historic Flooding Following Record Rainfall


Kentucky received record-breaking rainfall and flooding this past weekend. Keith Getter / Getty Images

Kentucky is coping with historic flooding after a weekend of record-breaking rainfall, enduring water rescues, evacuations and emergency declarations.

More than a dozen rainfall records were broken in the state on Sunday, CNN Meteorologist Michael Guy said. Many parts of Kentucky received two to four inches of rain in 72 hours, while a few received as much as 10 inches. The rainfall mixed with melting snow to produce major flooding.

“We expect this to be one of the largest flash-flooding events that we’ve had,” Kentucky Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett said Monday during a press conference, CNN reported.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a statewide emergency while 29 counties and seven cities also issued emergency declarations.

“We are acting swiftly to ensure the safety and security of Kentucky families and to get the needed help to our communities,” Beshear said in a statement, The Associated Press reported.

Floodwaters filled downtowns and required water rescues. In the town of Beattyville, boats could be spotted on Main Street, LEX 18 reported.


Lee County Judge/Executive Chuck Caudill said that water levels rose six to seven feet on most roads, prompting evacuations Sunday night. By Monday afternoon, there had been 25 evacuations and six major water rescues.

“We really had to do some serious lifesaving because they were literally walking out of houses with two to three feet of water in them,” Caudill told LEX 18.

In addition to the human rescues, a batch of COVID-19 vaccines were also evacuated from the Lee County Health Department in Beattyville after rain threatened the department’s power supply, CNN reported.

In Wolfe County, Kentucky, the Hazel Green Volunteer Fire Department said it rescued 15 people Sunday night, including a family of five who were trapped in their car, and were only spotted thanks to their cell phone light.

Additionally, ninety-one patients were evacuated from Salyersville Nursing and Rehabilitation in Salyersville, Kentucky, Sunday night, according to The Weather Channel.

The rain also caused flooding in West Virginia and Tennessee. In West Virginia, flooding and mudslides closed more than 100 roads, while rising waters trapped 11 people in a church in Cross Lanes. In Tennessee, four adults and one infant were rescued after a truck slid off a flooded bridge in Dekalb County.


Extreme precipitation events are set to increase with the climate crisis. This is because warmer oceans mean more water evaporates into the air, turning into rain or snow when a storm system forms, the Environmental Protection Agency explained. In the U.S. as a whole, extreme precipitation events have increased in the last three decades. Nine of the 10 years with the most single-day extreme precipitation events took place after 1990.

Kentucky has also gotten wetter overall in recent years, Spectrum News 1 reported in January. While the state has not substantially warmed, five of its wettest years were in the last decade, and extreme weather events have increased.

“It’s a more complicated set of changes than just warming,” Jeff Dukes, director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, told Spectrum News 1 about the impacts of climate change on the state. “It’s the amount of precipitation. It’s the timing of precipitation. It’s rain when you got snow before. There are a lot of different things involved. It’s why I think the better term is ‘climate disruption,’ because we’re disrupting the stable climate that we’ve had for thousands of years.”

He said Kentucky could anticipate more winter and spring rain, along with flooding, as the planet continues to warm.

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