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Strong storms Friday, and a look at Kentucky flooding

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Friday will probably be the end of our 90-degree streak.

Showers and heavier thunderstorms are expected throughout central Virginia on Friday, which will precede a short-lived break in both heat and humidity on Saturday.

Rain will be especially heavy in the thunderstorms that move across central Virginia later Friday afternoon and into the evening, as the humidity level is high several thousand feet up in the atmosphere.

The wind through the depth of the atmosphere on Friday afternoon will be conducive to spinning thunderstorms. While this does not mean a tornado outbreak is coming, it does call attention to a slightly higher than typical risk of thunderstorms with damaging winds for this time of year — whether from the spinning winds of a tornado or the straight-line winds racing outward from an intense thunderstorm downdraft.

Keep a plan in the back of your mind if you’re outside Friday afternoon and evening. Check your surroundings for a solid structure that can also keep you away from windows, as that will be your best option to shelter from strong winds.

Once the storms clear, wind turns from the north, tapping into air that is less hot and less humid. It will not feel like October on Saturday, but it will be a noticeable change compared to the past two weeks. With sun and clouds and an easing of the humidity, afternoon temperatures on Saturday will hold in the 80s.

But the hotter and more humid air will not be far away, holding in North Carolina for a day or so before creeping back into Virginia by the middle of next week. In between, metro Richmond has more chances of rain as the boundary between these two contrasting air masses slowly edges northward, focusing several rounds of showers and thunderstorms.

Even with more clouds, most of Sunday looks like it will be dry in Richmond, with a better coverage of rain in the western part of the state; then a broader area of showers and thunderstorms moves across central Virginia on Monday. As a result, temperatures will hold in the 80s on both days.

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Drought still remains from Nottoway through South Hill and Emporia, but metro Richmond continues to get just enough rain to avoid slipping into drought. In general, about 2 to 3 inches of rain has fallen in central Virginia this month.

But the piecemeal nature of precipitation in the summer has led to some very large differences across metro Richmond. Short Pump has had about 4 inches of rain this month, but only about 1.5 inches has fallen in Varina.

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You’ve probably heard about the devastating flooding in eastern Kentucky, which is the second massive flash flood in the area along the Virginia/Kentucky state line in the past two weeks.

Like the Buchanan County flood earlier this month, the terrain plays a critical role in funneling intense rain into the network of deep valleys in eastern Kentucky.

Geographically, these areas have always been susceptible to flooding, but as the climate has warmed, the heaviest rains are getting heavier. The weather pattern of the past couple of weeks provides the meteorological ingredients for heavy rain, but because the background climate is warmer, there can be more evaporation of water into storms.

Rainfall Intensity

Change in the annual average hourly rainfall since 1970. Green areas indicate an increase, illustrating locations where rainfall rates have increased in the last 50 years. Data: NOAA. Graphic: Climate Central

As a result, there is more water available to come down as rain, which makes the heaviest rain even heavier.

In other words, weather throws the punches, but climate trains the boxer.

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