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Kentucky Derby Weather -- A Primer

May 3, 2014

By WeatherBug Sr. Meteorologist, John Bateman


It`s been held in April and even as late as June (during World War II), but the Kentucky Derby we have come to know since the mid-1940s has been run on the first Saturday in May, which can be a volatile time for Louisville`s weather.

Rain can cause big problems with track conditions at Derby post time. Some heavy rain fell last year, with an amount of 0.87 inches reported across the Louisville area. It made for a Sloppy track as Orb came in first place with Golden Soul taking second place. Two years ago, early thunderstorms rolled over Churchill Downs, cancelling the morning workout and the track condition was called "Sloppy." By the 6:24 p.m. EDT post though, track conditions improved to Fast.

What`s more, this will be the third Derby since a tornado touched down and damaged 5 barns at Churchill Downs. It was ranked as an EF-1 tornado, but fortunately it harmed neither human nor horse. That twister swept through on June 22, 2011, about 6 weeks after the Derby... can you imagine if it happened on Derby Day?

Looking back at past Derby weather, a wide range of weather conditions has occurred in Louisville:

  • The coldest Derby Day? 36 degrees back in 1940 and 1957.

  • The hottest Derby? 94 degrees in 1959
  • The wettest? 2.31 inches of rain in 1918
  • The longest stretch of consecutive dry Derby Days? 12. From 1875-1886.
  • By the way, a few more Derby weather facts: It has been cold enough on a Kentucky Derby Day that sleet fell during the afternoon on May 6, 1989. Also, out of 139 Derbies, 64 have experienced precipitation at some point during the day (46 percent). Lastly, during its long and glorious history, no matter how awful the weather might have been, the Derby has never been cancelled. Go baby, go!

    Be sure to keep WeatherBug active to receive the latest weather in your neighborhood and get the latest Kentucky Derby forecast on Twitter.


    Story image courtesy of Kentuckytourism.com.

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