January 13, 2005 | By: Aimee Heald-Nielson

In 2004 Louisville and Jackson, Ky. recorded their wettest years on record with 65.52 and 64.20 inches of precipitation, respectively. Lexington recorded its second-wettest year with 62.45 inches.

The numbers probably don’t come as a shock to most people in central and eastern Kentucky, however western Kentucky residents had nowhere near the same weather experience. Remnants of hurricanes Frances and Ivan that moved through eastern parts of the state partially are to blame for the drastic difference in rainfall amounts from west to east.

“Kentucky as a whole had its ninth wettest year in 110 years,” said Tom Priddy, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture meteorologist. “Statewide average precipitation was 56.34 inches, which is 7.35 inches above normal. On the flip side, western Kentucky was much drier. Paducah measured 40.67 inches in 2004, which is 8.57 inches below normal and nearly 2 feet less than areas of central and eastern Kentucky. Temperatures during 2004 averaged 56.6 degrees, which is the 33rd warmest year and 1 degree above normal.”

Lexington did not record a single 90-degree day in 2004, matching a 1974 record. The closest the thermometer came to 90 was an 89-degree day on Aug. 19.

Not much different than 2004, 2005 began with what else – above-average rainfall for most of the state. Priddy said rainfall totals for the period of Jan. 3 through Jan. 9 averaged 2.54 inches statewide which was 1.82 inches more than normal.

“A very active weather pattern has become established over Kentucky and the United States; a pattern that has not occurred since the strong El Niño of 1997 and1998,” Priddy said. “During that winter, wicked weather caused mild, wet conditions in Kentucky and mudslides in California.”

Kentucky hasn’t seen the effects of El Niño in nearly two years; however in August 2004 weather experts noticed a warming of sea surface temperatures east of the International Date Line, indicating the beginning of a weak El Niño period.

El Niño is a disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific having important consequences for weather in Kentucky, the United States and around the globe.

“Among these consequences are increased rainfall across the southern tier of the United States and in Peru, which has caused destructive flooding, and drought in the West Pacific, sometimes associated with devastating brush fires in Australia,” Priddy said.

In the past, El Niño has been responsible for milder, wetter conditions in Kentucky’s colder months. Priddy believes the current weak El Niño may have triggered the volatile weather this winter.

Priddy said history shows El Niño usually has more of an effect on the southern tier states of the United States because it usually sets up a southern branch to the jet stream, providing cloudy, wet conditions in the southern United States and mild, dry conditions in the northwestern United States Kentucky gets squeezed between and experiences rollercoaster temperatures and an active weather pattern near the Ohio Valley.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that weak El Niño conditions will continue over the next three months. 

“For Kentucky that could mean above-normal temperatures and a change from wet conditions to below normal precipitation for the winter months,” Priddy said. “Predictions for the next 6 to 10 and 8 to14 days are for at or below-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation values.”

El Niño typically lasts 9 to 12 months and reaches peak intensity in December through April, but there have been El Niño episodes that have lasted as long at two to four years.

The El Niño episode of 1997 and 1998 wreaked havoc on weather conditions across the globe, not just Kentucky, Priddy said. It was associated with major flooding and landslides in California, and generally caused an increase in active weather in southern tier states that sometimes moved into Kentucky.


Editor: Aimee Nielson 859-257-4736, ext. 267

Contact: Tom Priddy 859-257-3000, ext. 245