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MURRAY – In the wake of the EF-4 tornado that swept through Mayfield and other western Kentucky towns on Dec. 10, many people are nervous about the threat of severe weather, but Murray’s official government weather observer said flash flooding will be a much larger concern this weekend.
Justin Holland, the National Weather Service’s official government weather observer for Murray, said Thursday that the NWS Storm Prediction Center has the area at a Level 2 out of five for Friday night going into Saturday. The rain is where the true potential danger lies, he said.
“We’re at a Level 2, or a slight risk, for severe weather Friday evening through Saturday afternoon,” Holland said. “A strong cold front will come through Saturday evening that will put an end to the severe weather threat. We have a flash flood threat, which I believe is the main concern. Rainfall totals of 2-4 inches will be likely, which will cause a lot of issues across the county. I would not be surprised if we hear of some roads that are underwater. I hope it doesn’t come to the point where people will have to be rescued, but the flash flood threat will be pretty high across the county Friday night into Saturday.”
Holland said another reason he is concerned is that today is New Year’s Eve, so the flash flooding risk comes on a night where people might be driving home after celebrating. He noted that flash flooding kills far more people in the U.S. than tornadoes do.
“It only takes 12 inches of water to sweep a small car off the road,” he said. “It takes 18 inches of moving water to sweep a large truck or an SUV off the road, and I would not be surprised if we hear from county officials that there is water over the roads at some of the typical trouble spots come Saturday morning. If people live in a flood-prone area, they might want to stay elsewhere Friday night in case water does rise quickly.
“If you can’t see the asphalt or the blacktop, it’s too deep for you to go through. If it’s a road they travel on a lot, they might think they are familiar with the road, but if the road is flooded, the asphalt may not even be there. It could be washed away, and they could drive off a steep, 10-foot cliff down into a big creek or something if they were thinking the road was still there.”
Calloway County Fire-Rescue Chief Tommy Morgan said that while the county’s swift water rescue team is made up of CCFR volunteers, it is under the umbrella of Calloway County Emergency Management.
“We have an affiliation to provide certain types of rescue, like confined spaces, swift water, high-angle rescue, things like that,” Morgan said. “We’ve received specialized training in that area, which also includes structural collapse, so we went to Mayfield after the tornado. We’ve got guys that are specially trained for each type of rescue, and the swift water team is probably our most-used. About every time we have much of a flooding event, we get sent somewhere because people are driving into high water and vehicles flood out.”
While driving over a road covered with water is always dangerous and inadvisable, Morgan warned that many modern cars are even more likely to be swept away by floodwaters because they are built with fuel efficiency in mind and are lightweight compared to many older vehicles.
“Also, the lower they sit to the ground, the quicker the water is going to move that car off the roadway,” Morgan said. “From my experience in Calloway County, we’ve got a lot of low areas. The problem is, everybody always thinks the bridge is usually the low area, but usually everywhere we have bridges, the bridges are not the problem. It’s the area approaching the bridge. Normally, people don’t make it to where the actual creek is.”
Morgan said some of the most frequently flooded Calloway County roads are Gibbs Store Road, Tobacco Road, Brandon Road near Hazel and Winchester Road, particularly between the two small bridges south of New Concord and KY 121 South. He said that more recently, KY 280 off KY 121 South has been flooding as well. 
Morgan said people sometimes try to drive across flooded roads, and once they realize they can’t make it, they manage to get out of their vehicles to safety. Many times, these people will leave their vehicle behind because they can’t drive it until the flood waters recede. Morgan said there have been many instances in which other passersby notice the abandoned vehicle and dial 911 to let law enforcement know someone might be in trouble. Since swift water rescue can be very dangerous, Morgan said these situations are very frustrating to CCFR volunteers and county officials. He stressed to the public that they should call the Calloway County Sheriff’s Office at 270-753-3151 to let them know if they have left a vehicle on a flooded road. He said he never wants to send personnel into harm’s way unless it is for a good reason.
“To be honest, I’d rather fight a house fire any day than to put my people in that water,” Morgan said. “That’s how I feel about the threat of it. Everybody’s scared to death of a house fire, but they’re not as scared to drive in flooded water. The realistic side of it is that I feel a lot safer fighting a house fire with my guys than I do deploying them into the water like that.”
Morgan said that most flooded roads in the county flood quickly, but after the rain stops, the water also recedes quickly. This means that sometimes, all it takes to get past a flooded road is to wait 30 minutes, so it is certainly not worth risking your life to save a little bit of time.
In terms of potential severe storms this weekend, Holland said the good news is that the biggest threat will be during the day on Saturday, so people shouldn’t be caught sleeping if anything does happen. He said it is nowhere near as strong a storm system as the one that was headed into the region on Dec. 10, and if a tornado does touch down, it will not be as anywhere close to as serious as the one that forged a 200-mile path across several states. 
Holland said that after the cold front comes through on Saturday, temperatures will drop sharply, with the low around 21 degrees. There is a chance of snow on Sunday, but if it does snow, he said accumulation will be unlikely because the ground will be wet and will still be too warm from the unseasonably warm weather earlier this week. Holland said that with the cold temperatures, there could be freezing on some surfaces, but he does not expect that to affect roads much because of the wind. With gusts as high as 35 mph, Holland said it is likely that the roads will dry before they get too icy.
Holland said, though, that after the threats of flash flooding and severe storms, his third main concern is that all the rain will saturate the ground enough to leave weaker trees vulnerable to falling. If that happens, there is a possibility they could fall onto power lines and cause isolated outages, he said. 
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