Dry spell should end flooding, rise in lake

ROSS CORDER

Heavy rains this month have sent Lake Cumberland on the rise. However, at this point, with a three-day dry and cold spell in progress, the lake is projected to crest Sunday about 6 feet above the tree line. The photograph at Pulaski County Park shows how record lake levels last February encroached upon recreational areas along the lake.

No more rain is expected in the Wolf Creek watershed until Monday night, and the welcomed dry spell should end flooding in southeastern Kentucky and slow the rise of Lake Cumberland.

A pool of Arctic air dropped down from Canada Thursday pushing rain out of the Lake Cumberland area. It brought a sigh of relief to those worried about another rise in the lake level similar to record levels that damaged recreational areas last February.

Continued rainfall has caused flooding along the Cumberland River and, as a result, a rapid rise in Lake Cumberland. As of Thursday, the lake was already more than a foot above the tree line and rising at the rate of more than 4 feet a day.

The dry, cold spell ahead should slow the rise. A spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the lake is expected to crest Sunday at 729.2 feet above sea level. That level is about 6 feet above the tree line, far below the 33 feet above the tree line reached last February.

Without more rain, Lake Cumberland after Sunday will begin to slowly fall. The Corps projects Monday's lake level at 729.1 feet above sea level.

Randy Kerr, civil engineer in the Water Resources Section, Hydrology and Hydraulics Branch, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District, said Tuesday 6.5 inches of rain had fallen in the Wolf Creek watershed this month. That didn't count rainfall in a line of thundershowers that passed over the area Wednesday night.

Dustin Jordan, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Jackson, said about an inch and a half of rain fell Wednesday night in the Cumberland River Basin. Jordan said Thursday the Cumberland River was still in flood stage at Williamsburg but not anywhere else.

The approximately 8 inches of rain in the Wolf Creek watershed so far this February is about 4 inches less that the 12.5 inches that fell during the entire month of February last year. Rainfall last February raised Lake Cumberland to record levels.

Excessive rainfall has pushed the level of Lake Cumberland ahead of the SEPA curve the lake follows in normal operation. SEPA, acronym for Southeastern Power Administration, contracts with the Corps to start raising the lake in February from winter pool at about 700 feet to summer pool at about 723 by May 15.

How fast or slowly the lake rises depends on amounts of rainfall. Kerr said the Corps will make an effort to lower the lake's current level back to the SEPA curve.

Weather in the Lake Cumberland area will be colder for the next couple of days. Temperatures are expected to bottom out in the upper teens to around 20 degrees. By Saturday, however, the high pressure system will be exiting east of the state, and return flow will take hold. Temperatures will be able to rebound quite nicely with highs in the 40s.

Meanwhile, a disturbance is forecast to develop across the Upper Midwest and points northward through the Upper Great Lakes and into Canada during the day Saturday. As this system shifts eastward Saturday night into Sunday, a weak cold front may pass through Kentucky.

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