Updated Jul 19, 2023 - Science

Kentucky declares state of emergency as historic rainfall floods communities

An image of a car stuck in a hole in the road caused by a washout in Mayfield, Kentucky.

A road near Mayfield in Graves County, Kentucky, on Wednesday following a washout that saw 11.28 inches of rain fall in 24 hours, according to preliminary NWS data. Photo: Graves County Sheriff's Office/Facebook

Kentucky's governor declared a state of emergency Wednesday after historic rainfall inundated parts of the state and forecasters said additional storms on "extremely saturated ground" overnight raised fresh flooding concerns.

The big picture: Gov. Andy Beshear urged people to "pray for Mayfield and areas of Western Kentucky impacted by significant flooding from last night's storms" as officials responded to the damage. The city in Graves County is still recovering from a December 2021 tornado that left 57 people dead, the Washington Post notes.

A screenshot of an NWS Paducah tweet saying: "Additional showers and thunderstorms falling on extremely saturated ground tonight into Thursday may cause renewed flooding concerns. Some areas could receive amounts between 0.50” to 2”."
Photo: NWS Paducah/Twitter

By the numbers: A record 11.28 inches of rain fell in Graves County in 24 hours, according to preliminary data from the National Weather Service's Paducah office.

Zoom in: There were no immediate reports of casualties from life-threatening flooding, but officials closed multiple roads that were washed out and the Graves County sheriff said the inundation led to six water rescues, per the New York Times.

Zoom out: "Abundant heat, moisture, and instability is producing life threatening flash flooding in western Kentucky and southern Illinois," per the NWS.

  • Parts of Missouri were also inundated by heavy rains and the NWS' St. Louis office warned more heavy rainfall could trigger flash flooding, and the strongest storms "may have hail to the size of quarters" and wind gusts up to 60 mph.

Meanwhile, Pfizer said a tornado had damaged the drugmaker's large Rocky Mount plant that produces drugs including anesthesia and nearly 25% of all sterile injectable medications used in U.S. hospitals as it tore through the North Carolina city, per Reuters.

  • Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone told reporters there were "reports of 50,000 pallets of medicine that are strewn across the facility and damaged through the rain and the wind."
  • "Damage has been found north of Rocky Mount consistent with an EF3 tornado and wind speeds of 150 mph," the NWS' Raleigh office tweeted.

Context: Climate change is causing extreme precipitation events to be more intense and frequent in much of the U.S. and around the world.

  • Axios' Andrew Freedman notes this is because a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, which provides added moisture and energy to storm systems.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated to include details of the tornado in North Carolina.

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