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Cold snap could have been worse, climatologist says

If you thought it was cold this past week, it could have been worse – and it was 20 years ago this month, according to Dr. Stuart Foster, state climatologist and director of the Kentucky Mesonet at WKU.

The minimum temperature recorded by the Mesonet at an elevation over 4,000 feet near the peak of Black Mountain in Harlan County dropped to 17 below zero on Jan. 7. Factoring in the effect of wind, which reached as high as 36 mph, the wind chill temperature dropped to near minus 50 degrees.

In Pike County, the Kentucky Mesonet station near Dorton at an elevation above 2,700 feet recorded a minimum temperature of 13 below zero. The difference between the two sites can be largely attributed to the environmental lapse rate, in which temperature decreases with increasing elevation.

Temperatures in the valleys of eastern Kentucky were a bit warmer, according to Mesonet data.

In Letcher County at Whitesburg, situated about 15 miles north of the station on Black Mountain and 20 miles southwest of the station in Pike County, the Kentucky Mesonet recorded a minimum temperature of minus 3. The elevation at Whitesburg is less than 1,200 feet.

Elsewhere around Kentucky, minimum temperatures from ranged from minus 8 near Florence in Boone County to a balmy 5 degrees at Hickman in Fulton County.

While many Kentuckians experienced some of the coldest weather in recent memory, temperatures came nowhere near the record low temperature recorded in Kentucky, Dr. Foster said.

In January 1994, a winter storm brought thick accumulations of ice and heavy snow, cutting power and shutting down Kentucky’s Interstate highways. Following the storm, arctic air plunged southward into Kentucky. On Jan. 19, 1994, the temperature at Shelbyville reached a record 37 degrees below zero.

While temperatures have moderated, the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service calls for a likelihood of colder than normal temperatures in their 6-to-10 and 8-to-14 day outlooks, Dr. Foster said.

The Kentucky Mesonet, an automated weather and climate monitoring network, has more than 60 stations across the state. The Mesonet stations collect real-time weather and climate data on temperature, precipitation, humidity, solar radiation, wind speed and direction. Data is packaged into observations and transmitted to the Kentucky Climate Center at WKU every five minutes, 24 hours per day, throughout the year and is available online at www.kymesonet.org.

Contact: Stuart Foster, (270) 745-5983.

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