‘This is not a drill.’ State of emergency declared ahead of potentially severe weather

A potentially severe storm is expected to hit parts of western and Central Kentucky heading into the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

The system will move west to east across the Ohio Valley Friday into Saturday, according to the NWS. The storm is projected to be at its strongest in the evening hours of Friday heading into Saturday.

A tornado watch was issued until 3 a.m. for the western half of the state and part of Central Kentucky.

Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon.

Beshear spoke about the storm during a Friday morning press conference, saying the conditions are very concerning.

“This is not a drill,” Beshear said. “We will have more updates as the day comes, but if you are in Western Kentucky, I want you to make sure that you look at this slide. Starting at 6 p.m. Eastern Time, 5 p.m. Central, you need to be somewhere safe.”

Meteorologists told Beshear it’s probable that long-track, violent tornadoes would hit the Jackson Purchase area Friday evening.

The farthest western portions of Kentucky are more likely to see severe weather from the storm. Beshear said areas up to I-65 are also in danger of being impacted by the storm.

“This is an area that was hit in December of 2021 by the unimaginable, and there is far too high of a probability that we will see that again tonight,” Beshear said.

The NWS predicts that Western Kentucky will begin experiencing severe weather between 6 and 10 p.m. Friday.

The chances for severe storms drop going east. Lexington and much of Central Kentucky has an “enhanced” risk for severe weather, the weather service said late Friday afternoon. If Lexington experiences any severe weather, the NWS projected it will be between midnight and 4 a.m. Saturday.

Mayor Linda Gorton announced Friday evening that the city’s Emergency Operations Center would open at 8:30 p.m. Friday with critical staff.

“We are being cautious and paying attention to our weather forecasters,” Gorton said. “Opening the EOC puts all of our emergency preparedness people on notice, and prepares us to get ready in case there is an emergency.”

The risk to much of Eastern Kentucky is marginal, according to the NWS. The strength and severity of the storm decreases the farther east it travels, the NWS said.

The potential for severe threats depends on the amount of instability, which the NWS referred to as “fuel” for the storm. The instability is highly uncertain, the NWS said.

The entire state was placed under a wind advisory, according to the NWS. The wind advisory in Lexington will remain in place from 8 p.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Saturday.

The NWS said wind gusts between 40 and 50 miles per hour are possible during this time frame. The strongest wind gusts will be in the Bluegrass region.

WKYT Chief Meteorologist Chris Bailey has a similar forecast to the NWS. He said rain and thunderstorms will be on and off for most of Friday until the more severe weather arrives in Western Kentucky Friday evening.

Bailey added that damaging winds and isolated tornadoes are possible, and some areas could see 1 to 2 inches of rain.

After the storm, the NWS projects it will be warmer but windy on Saturday, with temperatures projected to reach the mid 50s into the low 60s. Sunday will be another sunny day followed by a warmer and sunny day on Monday, with temperatures potentially reaching the mid 70s.

Herald-Leader reporter Karla Ward contributed to this report.