Kentucky is experiencing an unusually windy spring so far this year, and Kentuckians were in for another blustery day Saturday, with a high wind warning in effect.
It was the third time this year that the National Weather Service in Louisville issued a warning for strong winds, which is somewhat of an anomaly, said Meteorologist Ryan Sharp with the weather service.
“March of ‘23 is likely to go down as the windiest month in recorded history for Kentucky, and especially Lexington,” said WKYT Chief Meteorologist Chris Bailey.
So what’s causing it?
The same strong storm systems that have been hammering California, Bailey said.
He said “atmospheric rivers” coming in on the West Coast often just keep going.
“We’re seeing those systems almost coast to coast,” Bailey said. “Devastating systems.”
Sharp said that as stronger low-pressure systems move over the Midwest, a lack of cloud cover on clear, sunny days like Saturday “allows the atmosphere to mix a little better,” pushing wind energy from higher up down to the surface.
“This morning, I think the whole state of Kentucky is clear right now,” Sharp said Saturday. But he said, “the system is pulling away from us,” and clouds moving in from Indiana and Illinois Saturday afternoon would begin to calm things down.
The weather service said Central and Eastern Kentucky could expect westward winds of 20 to 30 miles per hour Saturday, with gusts of about 60 mph. The warnings were in effect through 4 p.m. for Central Kentucky and until 6 p.m. for Eastern Kentucky, though the Jackson office of the National Weather Service said the strongest gusts were likely by 3 p.m.
Kentucky Power said in a 6:30 p.m. update that it had 20,300 customers without power and 560 active outages, most of which were in Breathitt, Floyd, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Martin, Perry and Pike counties.
“Our service territory experienced a rapid increase in outages as the high winds moved into the southeastern region of Kentucky late this afternoon,” the power company said. “Kentucky Power crews, contractors, business partners and external resources are assessing damage and restoring power as quickly and safely as possible.“
Power outages and downed trees were expected. As of about 8:40 p.m. Saturday, about 37,000 Kentuckians were without power, according to Poweroutage.us, which tracks outages.
Powell County Search and Rescue said a hiker was knocked unconscious and pinned beneath a falling tree branch at the Whittleton Branch Campground trail Saturday. The group asked anyone visiting the Red River Gorge area to be mindful of falling trees and branches.
“Powell County Emergency Medical Services paramedics and EMTs made initial contact and were able to assess the patient and package his head wounds, after SAR members were able to free him with use of a chainsaw,” the search and rescue group said in a Facebook post. “With the help of Middlefork Fire/Rescue, Red STAR Wilderness EMS, and several of our team members, we were able to successfully get the patient out of the trail for further treatment.”
“People should avoid being outside in forested areas and around trees and branches,” the National Weather Service’s high wind warning stated. “If possible, remain in the lower levels of your home during the windstorm, and avoid windows. Use caution if you must drive.”
Sharp said more winds may be on the way, as “we do have another system coming in on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.”
He said he expects the windy pattern to break by around the middle of April, and then the state will be back to severe thunderstorm watches in the summer months ahead.
Clear skies this morning are allowing for efficient mixing of wind energy aloft down to the surface. Expect the peak window for gusts to be in the 11 AM to 3 PM EDT time frame. #lmkwx #kywx #inwx pic.twitter.com/ZaHZelR3nO
— NWS Louisville (@NWSLouisville) April 1, 2023
— NWS Jackson KY (@nwsjacksonky) April 1, 2023
Previous storms have brought high winds that left their mark already this year.
Four people died and hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians were without power after a historic windstorm March 3.
That day, Lexington clocked its highest ever wind gust that did not involve tornado activity at 78 mph.
“Numerous other times” in March, Bailey said the city measured winds at 50 to 60 mph.
Grateful to report this morning that as of now, we have no known Kentucky fatalities from last night’s storms and tornados. Thank you to everyone for being weather aware! ^AB
— Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) April 1, 2023
The Kentucky Mesonet site in Pike County just had a 70mph wind gust. #kywx
— Chris Bailey (@Kentuckyweather) April 1, 2023
— Anthony Frye (@Flynsqrl73) April 1, 2023