Kentucky Weather Flashback: 2004

Back in the "dead of winter" I did a write-up about the ferocious winter of 1994. From massive snowfalls, to ice storms, to the coldest temperatures ever recorded in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 1994 permanently changed the way society views winter weather in this state.

Now that we're into meteorological summer in the Bluegrass, I thought I'd do another flashback to a year that featured wild weather and an unusual summer: 2004.

The year 2004 was a quiet year weatherwise in the beginning, with little snowfall in January and February. We saw roughly five inches of snowfall during both months combined, and the temperatures were spot-on normal for the time of year. Things would quickly turn into anything but normal, however. Spring became warmer than average with temperatures a few degrees above our normals for the March-May time frame. Rainfall during spring was the big story, with nearly 20 inches falling from March through May in many areas of central Kentucky which led to some flooding. Similar to 2012, severe thunderstorm reports were isolated at best, except for one large outbreak of tornadoes.

It was summer, however, that got the most news coverage. The word drought was never mentioned, as we saw ample rainfall from beginning to end. June brought 5.05 inches of rainfall at the official reporting station in Lexington. July was a soaker with 8.68 inches, and even August saw 4.06 inches of precipitation. The summer of 2004 was a farmer's dream. To make things even better, we did not see a single 90 degree temperature the entire year. The highest reading was 89 degrees which occurred on Aug. 19. However, August also featured several days in the 70s and finished as our fourth coolest August ever. The entire summer was relatively cool and wet. The time of year that normally scorches us with heat would prove not to in 2004. We hadn't seen a year with no 90 degree days since 1974. It was a truly comfortable summer that left many people wishing it could be that way every year.

The summer season wasn't perfect though. On July 13, a derecho swept across the state bringing mass destruction. A derecho is a large, organized line of thunderstorms often shaped like a bow that rapidly drops south across an area and typically causes serious wind damage.  The derecho that moved through Kentucky that night brought widespread 60-80 miles per hour winds. The weather station at WKU recorded a gust of 84 miles per hour. Louisville Gas and Electric reported that it caused the most power outages they had seen since the famous 1974 "super outbreak" of tornadoes. Trees were snapped across a large area of the state and lots of property damage reports were sent to the National Weather Service office in Louisville from all over central Kentucky. In the map attached you can see how extensive the damage was. This map shows each damage report that came into authorities that night. Almost every county in Kentucky had damage of some type.

When fall came around the rains continued. October was the fourth wettest month ever recorded here, and even November had frequent rainfall. The heavy rains of October and November turned into heavy snow in December. Winter came in like the proverbial lion with a snowstorm that dropped two feet of accumulation near Louisville and caused many areas in that part of Kentucky to shut down completely.

Despite all the intense weather we saw in 2004, and the many records that were broken, it would be the summer period that would stay on the minds of Kentuckians for years to come. The dry ground and summer heat and humidity that is a staple of life in our state during the longest days of the year never materialized, and it was like a refreshing gift from nature. We have already seen readings above 90 degrees this year, but if you look at the year as a whole it has been very similar to 2004 in many ways. Could summer shape up to be cooler and wetter than average here again? There are many people who would be very thankful if it did, and I myself am one of them.


Sources: some data assembled by the National Weather Service forecast office, Louisville, Kentucky