It can be one of a Farm Manager’s biggest headaches: the weather. As Spring brings severe weather across central Kentucky, farms across the state are forced to deal with multiple threats along with the changing seasons–snow or ice storms, heavy rain and flooding, high winds, lightning, and even tornadoes. With herds of horses scattered across hundreds of acres, those fast-moving Spring systems require a farm to be ready at a moment’s notice to keep both human and equine safe.
A strong area of low pressure swept across the region Friday, March 3. At its peak, the storm produced wind gusts of between 60-80mph through the afternoon and evening hours which downed trees and power lines, keeping customers in the dark for days following. The National Weather Service in Louisville, KY reported a new daily record rainfall of 2.79″ that day, the 7th wettest March day in the city’s history. In addition, several weak tornadoes touched down west of Louisville including an EF-1 which damaged property in and around Johnsburg, KY while packing 105mph winds.
For the Thoroughbred farms in central Kentucky, having a plan in place to deal with these threats is key.
“If there is impending severe weather coming like we had [that] Friday, we have all the horses in the barns to protect against lightning, falling trees and downed fences,” said Claiborne Farm Manager Bradley Purcell. “Sometimes during the summer, these storms come up quick and there just isn’t enough time to get the horses up so it’s safer for the staff not to try and get them up. When we know severe weather is coming again like [that] Friday, we let all the employees go early so they can get home to safety and not chance getting caught out in the storm traveling home. Planned or forecasted events we plan like we did Friday. The pop up storms we just don’t chance getting the staff in harms way and we have them stay in a safe place on the farm.”
While Kentucky saw only one lightning-related death in 2022, thunderstorms remain one of the top risks to those working outside.
“When caught outside during a severe thunderstorm or tornado, the best option is to seek shelter inside a sturdy building immediately,” advised Mike Kochasic, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the Louisville office of the National Weather Service. “A basement is the best place, or if there’s no basement, an interior room without windows (a closet or bathroom) is a good option.”
When it comes to those working outdoors, he added: “Sheds, barns, and storage facilities will protect you from rain, but not severe wind from a bad thunderstorm or tornado. If you have time, get to a sturdy building and stay away from outside walls and windows. Taking shelter in a vehicle is not safe, but if caught in a vehicle the best course of action is to drive to a nearby safe shelter. If unable to make it to a safe shelter, get down in your car and cover your head, or as a last resort seek a low lying area to take cover such as a ditch or ravine, but be careful of flood waters.”
As the Spring and Summer seasons roll in, farms in Kentucky are doing all they can to stay ahead of the weather with tools like on-site training.
“We as a farm have tried to be proactive,” added Lane’s End Farm Manager Todd Claunch. “We provide safety training for our staff once a year. In addition to the usual CPR, first aid, and bio-hazard training, we also cover what to do when there is life threatening weather. It’s important for us to monitor the weather several times a day. If we know that unsafe conditions are expected, the horses will stay in the barns. Maintaining equipment and making sure that it is fueled and operating correctly is an important part of our plan. When we do have an event that requires immediate action, the entire farm staff are able to mobilize very quickly.”
Having a plan in place for always-changing weather, regardless of the forecast, is always the best option to keep both staff and horses safe.