February 4, 2009

Calamitous weather in Louisville: A brief history

It took just over four months for Mother Nature to top herself in Louisville. The windstorm that came Sept. 14, 2008, via Hurricane Ike and tore down countless trees and thousands of power lines — thus leaving thousands here without electricity, in some cases for longer than a week — was, until last week, the biggest disaster the city had ever seen in terms of power outages.

The ice-and-snow storm that continues to wreak havoc on our power structure — literally and figuratively — is the worst natural disaster in Kentucky history (measuring that by number of households without power). Here are some of the other big ones.

Flood of 1937: Recall how locked down the city was by the ice and snow over the last week — and how quickly we’ve been able to recover most main roads and access points. In 1937, when the Ohio River rose 57 feet above flood stage, the city was on its proverbial knees for 23 days. More than 60 percent of the old city was under water, and more than 230,000 people had to evacuate. Major floods of lesser consequence also happened in 1832, 1883, 1884 (previous record-holder), 1913, 1945, 1964, and, of course, the flood of 1997 — 60 years and about one month after the city’s Great Flood.

Tornado of 1890: Although most people think of the Tornado of 1974 as the most devastating on record — it stayed on the ground here for 20 minutes, killed three people and damaged 1,800 homes — this one was the most destructive and deadly on record. Killing almost 100 and injuring another 200, some who later died from their injuries, the twister spent about five minutes on the ground, where it also took out much of the city’s water supply (water was rationed for days following). Amazingly, city leaders declined all offers for financial assistant from the federal government and Red Cross, instead raising money from private sources to rebuild.

Snowstorm of 1994: It only took 24 hours for more than 15 inches of snow to fall and accumulate in Louisville in January of ’94, clogging up just about every city roadway and infrastructure system. Gov. Brereton Jones closed the city’s highways indefinitely as temperatures dropped below zero, effectively turning the blanket of snow into a helmet of ice. Just three weeks later, 22 inches of snow dropped, but the city was better prepared and temperatures stayed high enough to melt the snow rather quickly. 

Source: The Encyclopedia of Louisville