Kentucky experiences a humid subtropical type of climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa), with an oceanic climate (Köppen Cfb) in the highlands of the southeast. Hot summers and cold winters occur typically, with a gradual increase in warmth in the southern regions. Kentucky lies in the east-central portion of the United States. Missouri in the west, Illinois, and Indiana in the northwest, Ohio in the north, West Virginia in the east, Virginia in the southeast, and Tennessee in the south border the state. Lower latitudes and proximity to the Gulf of Mexico are major players that influence the climate.
Kentucky, the Bluegrass State, has an average elevation of 230 meters above sea level, with the highest altitude of 1265 meters at Black Mountain highest and lowest of 78 meters at the Mississippi River at Kentucky bend. The state is home to diverse environments and varied topography along with the longest cave system and greatest navigable waterways in the United States. The Ohio River forms a northern border and the Mississippi its western border. Out of the five geographical regions, the Cumberland Plateau lies in the east. Bluegrass in the north-central region consists of short steep, narrow hills, while the Pennyroyal Plateau lies toward the south-central and west. The Western Coal Fields are forested, while the Jackson Purchase in the far west has alluvial plains and small hills.
Kentucky has four different seasons with an invigorating climate. Summers are hot, wet, and humid. High temperatures repeatedly cross the 95°F (35°C) mark during peak summer in July, and the heat is oppressive. Winters are cold, but short of bitter, with night temperatures below 23°F (-5°C) in January. Substantial variations exist between summer and winter temperatures. However, temperatures rarely drop below 0°F (-17.8°C) or rise above 100°F (37.8°C). The northern region is up to 5°F (-15°C) cooler than the south and west. Spring is mild but prone to storms and rapid weather changes. Autumn is mostly sunny, with pleasant temperatures and low humidity.
Kentucky registers an average of 45" (1143mm) of annual rainfall, with the south-central region up to 12" (304.8mm) rainier than the north. The northern region receives 38" (965.2mm) of precipitation compared to 50" (1270mm) in the south. Spring is the wettest season, and fall is the driest. Snowfall is a moderate 15" (381mm) to 20" (508mm) in the winter, mainly in the north and east. Snow cover rarely lasts over a week in the south and more than two weeks in the north. The average annual sunshine lasts for 2700 hours, with 100 freezing days in the north and east as opposed to only 60 in the south.
The record high temperature for Kentucky is 114°F (45.6°C), set in Greensburg on July 28, 1930, while the lowest recorded temperature is -37°F (-38.3°C), set in Shelbyville on January 19, 1994.
The best time to visit Kentucky
The best time to visit Kentucky is in the fall season from mid-September to mid-November when the conditions are pleasant after the end of the hot summer. The autumn is the driest season of the year with sunny days amid low humidity. The days are in the 50°F (10°C) to 83°F (28.3°C) zone, while the nights are mild in the 40°F (4.4°C) to 60°F (15.6°C) range. Storm activity is at a low, and the landscape is colorful during the autumn. The spring season has mild temperatures, while early summer is warm, but significant rainfall and thunderstorms make the period dicey for a vacation.
The worst time to visit Kentucky
The worst time to visit Kentucky is in the winter from December to February when the conditions are cold. Although low temperatures rarely drop below 0°F (-17.8°C), strong winds exacerbate the cold, and freezing nights occur across the state. Snowfall is light in the south compared to the north and does not accumulate on the ground for long periods. Polar air masses occasionally reach the northern portions and travel all the way to the south. Snowstorms are occasional in Kentucky, but even moderate amounts of snowfall stall everyday life due to lack of snow removal measures.
Kentucky is vulnerable to tornadoes, thunderstorms, floods, and droughts in spring and summer. The later part of the spring season is particularly prone to floods due to heavy rainfall and thawing of snow. Flash floods occur regularly, with the one on August 4, 2009, claiming 36 lives and devastating property. Ten tornadoes occur on average in the year, while thunderstorms number from forty to fifty-five. Wind speeds often exceed 100 miles per hour during severe storms and cause loss to life and property. Thunderstorms occur routinely during the spring and summer, while ice storms are not rare in the winter.
Weather in January
January is the peak of the winter in Kentucky, with average low temperatures at the nadir between 23°F (-5°C) to 28°F (-2.2°C). The days are mild to cold in the average range of 39°F (3.9°C) to 47°F (8.3°C) and receive weak sunshine of 4 hours. Frankfort, the capital in the north-central region, registers temperatures between 23°F (-5°C) to 42°F (5.6°C), while Mount Sterling in the east is relatively colder between 21°F (-6.1°C) to 41°F (5°C). The precipitation is moderate in the 3" (76.2mm) to 4" (101.6mm) range, but January is the snowiest month of the year and receives 4" (101.6mm) to 6" (152.4mm) of snow. Snow lovers can check Jackson in the east, which receives one of the highest snowfall in the state at 7" (177.8mm). The skies are partly cloudy, and the atmosphere tends to be less humid than the summer. Warm winter coats offer comfort in the cold season as the wind can be chilly. January thaw is a warm spell in midwinter in Kentucky when temperatures remain above freezing for a few days.
Weather in February
February is cold in the winter season of Kentucky yet sees a fair amount of sunshine. The average temperatures are between a cold 23°F (-5°C) during the night to a warm 52°F (11.1°C) in the day. Ashland in the east is cold between 24°F (-4.4°C) to 44°F (6.7°C) compared to Louisville in the north, between 30°F (-1.1°C) to 48°F (8.9°C). February snowfall is a moderate 4" (101.6mm) to 5" (127mm), with the southern portion of the state receiving only a light amount. Expect slippery roads and drive carefully on the ice and snow. Winter is neither bleak nor sunny. Snowy adventures to dazzling light displays are the highlights of the winter. Kentucky is an ideal place for horseback riding, even in the cold season in the south. Curl up by a warm fire and enjoy a home-cooked meal in a bed and breakfast hotel with snow outside. Hiking trails remain open even in the cold weather. February is a discount month in Kentucky, especially the northern portion, as visitors prefer to stay away from the cold.
Weather in March
March brings the beautiful spring season to Kentucky, by the second half of the month. The skies are cloudy, but the sunshine increases to a daily 6 hours. The average temperatures are between 30°F (-1.1°C) to 63°F (17.2°C), with Paducah in the west between 38°F (3.3°C) to 59°F (15°C) and Stearns in the south-central in the 32°F (0°C) to 59°F (15°C) range. Spring is the wettest season, and March receives 4" (101.6mm) to 5" (127mm) of rainfall. Snowfall is light in the south and registers only 1" (25.4mm) to 2" (50.8mm) in the north. The conditions are unpredictable, with an occasional cold wave on the cards. Dogwood Winter is a cold spell in the spring season that occurs after the blooming of dogwood trees. The state comes alive with the onset of spring and a tinge of greenery everywhere. Nights occasionally drop below freezing in early spring, and it is prudent to keep warm coats within reach. Mornings offer refreshing air and mild sunshine. Budget travelers should remain alert for tornadoes and thunderstorms that invade Kentucky.
Weather in April
April is a warm and wet month in Kentucky, with the advance of the spring season. The prairie shows definite signs of greenery with the absence of snow from the landscape and begins the growing season. The average high temperatures are in the comfortable 66°F (18.9°C) to 72°F (22.2°C) range, while the nights are above freezing in the 39°F (3.9°C) to 48°F (8.9°C) range. The precipitation is on the rise and registers between 4" (101.6mm) to 5" (127mm), while snowfall is on the decline. The melting of snow brings a supply of freshwater to the rivers, lakes, and streams but results in local floods. Enjoy the beautiful weather with a hike through wildflowers or sip an ice-cold root beer. The greenery in Keeneland adds to the thrill of horseracing in the sunny days of April. Cumberland Falls, the Niagara of the south, roars with fresh water during the peak period of spring. Distilleries lie on beautiful grounds that make spring taste great. Easter is festive and an excellent time to visit Kentucky in April.
Weather in May
May is the rainiest month of the year in Kentucky, along with the highest number of storms. The precipitation registers in the range of 5" (127mm) to 6" (152.4mm), with occasional rainstorms and hailstorms that cause local disruptions. Day temperatures are in the average range of 74°F (23.3°C) to 81°F (27.2°C), while the nights are mild between 49°F (9.4°C) to 57°F (13.9°C). The snow disappears from the ground, even in the coldest areas. Late spring is prone to tornadoes and thunderstorms. The wet periods, however, do not mask the sun for extended periods, and bright sunshine basks the land. Wear jackets that comfortably withstand the rain when exploring outdoors. Blackberry Winter is a cold spell that occurs when the blackberries bloom in May. Breathtaking views of nature are at its best. Boating and fishing are popular activities as is relaxing on the lake shores. Evenings witness picturesque sunsets on the fabulous lakesides. Beware of stormy and wet weather as well as a continental polar air mass visit in May in Kentucky.
Weather in June
June starts the hot summer season in Kentucky as the sun assumes command of the skies. The heat and humidity increase steadily as the longest days of the year receive intense sunshine for 9 hours. The average high temperatures are in the 82°F (27.8°C) to 89°F (31.7°C) zone, while the average low temperatures are between 58°F (14.4°C) to 66°F (18.9°C). Lexington in north-central Kentucky registers between 63°F (17.2°C) to 83°F (28.3°C), while Monticello in the south-central portion is in the 61°F (16.1°C) to 83°F (28.3°C) zone. Thunderstorms are frequent, and the state is prone to tornadoes and tropical cyclones from the Gulf Coast. Hailstorms occasionally extend to the summer and cause damages to crops. Sweatshirts are best during the day to tackle the heat and humidity. The experience of camping in the open is exciting for adventure lovers. The open prairie is home to the clearest skies of the year for stargazing activities. June brings tourists to Kentucky despite the rise in temperatures.
Weather in July
July is usually the hottest month of the year in Kentucky, with the average high temperatures between 85°F (29.4°C) to 92°F (33.3°C). Nights are in the warm range of 62°F (16.7°C) to 70°F (21.1°C) but significantly less humid than the days. Kentucky Dam Village in the west registers temperatures between 70°F (21.1°C) to 93°F (33.9°C), while Barren River Lake in the south-central region is in the 68°F (20°C) to 92°F (33.3°C) zone. The 8 hours of daily sunshine bring oppressive heat with humidity above 75%. Mid-summer is hot and humid, with frequent occurrence of afternoon thunderstorms. The mild waters offer respite from the heat either through boating and paddling or swimming and dipping feet in the lakes. Picnic spots with the best views of the water are in high demand during the summer. Expect a moderate amount of rainfall that brings relief in the hot conditions. Light summer clothing is suitable for both day and night. If possible, avoid a vacation plan to visit Kentucky in July.
Weather in August
August is hot in the summer of Kentucky with the humidity resulting in much perspiration. The skies are mostly clear with bright sunshine that lasts for at least 8 hours a day. Day temperatures are between 84°F (28.9°C) to 92°F (33.3°C) and occasionally touch 100°F (37.8°C), while nights are in the range of 61°F (16.1°C) to 67°F (19.4°C). The 3" (76.2mm) to 4" (101.6mm) of precipitation is in the form of light showers, which is useful for agriculture. Thunderstorms are active even in late summer, although with less intensity. Sweatshirts and t-shirts are suitable in the hot sun but avoid midday heat as far as possible. Lakes with extensive shorelines are popular for picnic spots, and there is no shortage of fishing enthusiasts in the summer. Water parks are a great way to cool the summer heat. Camping in lush green forests with incredible scenery is on the bucket list of many tourists. August brings an increase in tourist numbers in Kentucky.
Weather in September
September is the beginning of the beautiful autumn season in Kentucky as the heat steps down considerably by the second half of the month. Fall is the driest season, yet the sunshine is bright and lasts for 7 to 8 hours. The humidity is on the wane, and the skies bid goodbye to cloud cover. The average high temperatures are between the comfortable 77°F (25°C) to 83°F (28.3°C) range, while the nights are in the mild 55°F (12.8°C) to 61°F (16.1°C) zone. Baxter in the north-central region registers between 56°F (13.3°C) to 79°F (26.1°C), Covington in the south-central area is in the range of 57°F (13.9°C) to 78°F (25.6°C), while Henderson in the west is between 58°F (14.4°C) to 81°F (27.2°C). The first burst of color takes place as early as mid-September, with the first changes in the east and north that progress steadily to the west and south. The time to pick apples and pumpkins and make campfires is due. September is the beginning of the tourist season in Kentucky.
Weather in October
October is the driest month of the year in Kentucky, with beautiful weather and a colorful landscape. Lakeshores offer brilliant views of the foliage, and orchards are full of ripe apples. Mornings and evenings are particularly pleasant with moderate sunshine and a light breeze. The average high temperatures are in the range of 66°F (18.9°C) to 71°F (21.7°C), while average low temperatures register between 41°F (5°C) to 49°F (9.4°C) across the state. Nights are on the mild to the cold side, even though the days are warm with ample sunshine. Peak fall foliage is due statewide by the second half of October. Dogwoods and sumacs turn red and purple, maples and oaks are orange and red, while poplars and hickories display yellow and gold colors. Hiking and camping gather steam, especially in the scenic eastern Kentucky mountains. Festivals are abundant in the fall season, with the harvest season at its peak. October is one of the best times to be in Kentucky.
Weather in November
November sees the autumn season in its last lap in Kentucky as the temperatures drop considerably. The average temperatures are in the cold 32°F (0°C) to warm 62°F (16.7°C), with light precipitation and occasional snowfall in the northern region. Bowling Green in the south-central region registers between 38°F (3.3°C) to 59°F (15°C), while Warsaw in the north-central area is between 34°F (1.1°C) to 57°F (13.9°C). Camping is widespread, with a chance to pitch a tent under the clear autumn skies at night. The daylight is best for taking pictures of the colorful scenery that unfolds in the wild. Ride through the scenic byways and country roads to explore the beauty of nature. The late fall season in November routinely experiences an Indian summer, which is a warm spell after temperatures drop below freezing at night. State park lodges are cozy and offer a fun-filled fall escape. The Heritage Highway has heavily wooded terrain, horse farms with wooden and stone fences all along the way. Expect the cold to push down temperatures with each passing day in November in Kentucky.
Weather in December
December is the beginning of the winter season in Kentucky, with mild days but freezing nights. The average low temperatures are in the cold 24°F (-4.4°C) to 31°F (-0.6°C) range, and the average high temperatures are in the mild 42°F (5.6°C) to 50°F (10°C) range. Temperature variations are not significant between different parts of the state, as is the altitude. London in eastern Kentucky averages between 29°F (-1.7°C) to 48°F (8.9°C), while Golden Pond in the west is in the 28°F (-2.2°C) to 48°F (8.9°C) range. Snow and rain contribute to the 4" (101.6mm) to 6" (152.4mm) of precipitation. It is nice to stay by a warm fire as the temperatures drop gradually with the advance of the winter season. Christmas may find snow but always sees bright lights and a festive atmosphere. Mountains are stunning in the cold for adventure seekers. Ice skating rinks are plenty for snow lovers. Snow-covered hills and white tree-lined streets appear scenic while driving in the cold weather. A December visit to Kentucky is acceptable for those who can bear a little cold.