Rain, Storms May Return to Kentucky Derby

May 5, 2011; 12:02 PM ET
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Kentucky Derby hopeful Watch Me Go, with jockey Freddie Lenclud up, works out on the wet track before sunrise at Churchill Downs Monday, May 2, 2011, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

The risk of more wet weather may not only favor the mudders for this year's Kentucky Derby, but thunderstorms may also be a concern for spectators.

Fans hanging around for the Derby and other races that day at Churchill Downs may have to hold the mint julep in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Waterproof shoes may not be a bad idea as well.

AccuWeather.com meteorologists are forecasting rain-free weather in the Louisville area through Thursday. However, the risk of showers and perhaps strong thunderstorms may return in time for the weekend.

While the track at Churchill has been holding up well, the rain and its wet/sloppy track conditions have posed challenges for training in recent days.

Even with a couple of days of dry weather, infield areas will be muddy. Any additional rain Friday and Saturday will not help.

Rain-free weather expected through Thursday will allow the track to dry.

However, any downpours accompanying the thunderstorms on Saturday could create sloppy conditions again in time for the Derby.

Relentless rain has drowned much of central Kentucky and many other areas along the Ohio and lower Mississippi rivers for weeks. Some parts of the region have received over 2 feet of rain in just over three weeks. Flooding of historical proportions is unfolding.

While the lower segment of the Ohio River is at major flood levels at this time, most of the problems along the Ohio are west of Louisville, despite over 15 inches of rain falling since the start of April.

High water forced some Derby Festival activities to move to higher ground. However, the Ohio River remains below moderate flood stage in the Louisville area and is not expected to affect Churchill Downs, which lies well away from the river.

Early Details on the Weather Friday and Saturday

As we see it now, two batches of rain will swing through the Louisville area.

Spotty showers and thunderstorms will first swing through Thursday night into Friday. Saturday's showers and thunderstorms have the potential to be heavier and more numerous.

Certainly a lone shower on Saturday would not be a big deal for the Derby, unless it occurs during or just before the race starts and it ends up being a torrential downpour.

The appearance and nature of the thunderstorms on Saturday will depend on whether or not a wedge of warm air is able to poke that far to the north into the Ohio Valley.

Several hours of sunshine giving temperatures a boost would give thunderstorms extra energy, which could then pack more of a punch and greater risk for spectators.

It is possible the storms on Saturday will hold off until the evening.

Unfortunately, we won't know the precise timing and intensity of the showers until Saturday rolls around and the nature and track of the culprit storm system is revealed. The system that would bring the thunderstorms Saturday was still over the Gulf of Alaska on Wednesday.

While a downpour would be more than a "downer" for the race and spectators, lightning, hail and gusty winds would be the main threats from the strongest thunderstorms.

Lightning and thunder can make some horses edgy.

Fortunately, as meteorologist Brian Edwards reported Tuesday, it seems Gulf of Mexico moisture will not be available to the storm systems Friday and Saturday. This could help to tone down the storms and the rain potential just a bit.

The details of the weather for Louisville for Saturday and the 2011 Kentucky Derby will continue to unfold. However, despite the break from the rain now, the overall wet weather pattern has not yet run its course in the Midwest for the spring and the rain will not completely shut off.

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