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In recent years, we've complained about the single digit temperatures that we've seen from time to time during the winter months here in central Kentucky. So far this season, the 10-15 degree range is about as cold as we've gotten, but even at that you can hear grumblings from folks about how spring can't show up fast enough. I thought I'd do a quick little write-up about the January we experienced here 18 years ago just to jog our memories and remind us that it could be worse...a lot worse.
During the middle of January 1994, a powerful weather system moved into the Ohio Valley. Kentuckians saw several inches of snow fall on average, with some areas seeing even more than that. It was a fairly serious snowstorm for us, and it created quite a few headaches, but after blanketing the region in snow the storm wasn't finished yet. The day after the storm subsided, a severely cold arctic airmass moved in and air temperatures plummeted. Many cities saw readings dip into the 20 below zero range. Shelbyville bottomed out at 37 degrees below zero! This is still the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state of Kentucky. It is simply astonishing.
The brutal temperatures made an already bad situation even worse. Power lines started to crack and fail. Thousands of people lost electricity. Water lines began to succumb to the cold and there were many ruptures. It was a disaster for utility companies, and they could not respond to the problem areas easily due to the snow. One report indicated that nearly 2,000 Kentuckians slept in government shelters. The governor declared all interstate and parkway roads closed to traffic, except for emergencies. This also caused the storm to become a disaster in economic terms since goods and services could not be delivered. The news media reported on a manager of a local Walgreen's store who slept at the store so that he could be there to open his doors the morning after the storm because he knew his customers would need their prescription medications. The UK basketball team had their flight cancelled and barely made it to Florida in time to play the Gators on national television that night. Most people found themselves stranded at home for at least two days with no way to get out, and no businesses open even if they could. The brutal air temperatures combined with the snow was something folks in Alaska were accustomed to seeing, but Kentuckians were completely unprepared for such a severe blast from winter. Just walking outside would cause frostbite within minutes unless your skin was totally covered. It was an event we'd never seen before, and haven't seen since. As a high school freshman at ACHS I enjoyed the days out of school though. It made for a nice little vacation since I didn't have any responsibility at the time. Most people did not share my feelings on the situation. It was a paralyzing storm in the literal sense of the word.
To make matters even worse still...just as Kentucky was beginning to recover, an ice storm pounded Kentucky just a few weeks later and shut down many of the same areas. The next time you walk outside and think "it's cold!" just remember that it can always be a lot worse. January of 1994 proved that, and will live in infamy.
Folks that have been around Kentucky for a long time can attest to the fact that severe winter weather seems to follow a cycle every other decade. The 1950s, '70s and '90s all featured some historic winter storms. With that in mind, it would seem that we are looking at the possibility of terrible winter weather becoming more common in the next several years. Will history repeat itself? I suppose time will tell.