Will Hurricane Florence hurt Kentucky? We’ve got a map.


Hurricane Florence is coming, and not just to the coast. Eastern Kentucky could see significant rainfall, which could lead to flooding, power outages, and landslides. How big a deal is this?

It depends on which counties are hit.

The Social Vulnerability Index for Kentucky

The Centers for Disease Control have a measurement called “social vulnerability.” It’s a measure not just of physical vulnerabilities, but of a region’s resilience – how well that region can bounce back from a negative event like a flood.

From the CDC website:

Social vulnerability refers to the resilience of communities when confronted by external stresses on human health, stresses such as natural or human-caused disasters, or disease outbreaks. Reducing social vulnerability can decrease both human suffering and economic loss. ATSDR’s Social Vulnerability Index uses U.S. census variables at tract level to help local officials identify communities that may need support in preparing for hazards, or recovering from disaster.

Another organization, Direct Relief, has taken the CDC’s social vulnerability data and turned it into maps, to give local officials some insight into what regions would need more help or mitigation.

“Socially vulnerable” counties in Kentucky

At our request, they did a custom map of Kentucky showing the impact of Hurricane Florence on Kentucky based on the Social Vulnerability Index for each county. An index of 1 is the highest level of vulnerability, with 0 being the lowest. They break the ratings into bands, with 0.87 to 1.00 being the most vulnerable, and 0.71 to 0.87 being the second most vulnerable.

The line to the right is the projected path of Florence once it moves inland.

Screen capture of SVI map via <a href="https://directrelief.maps.arcgis.com">Direct Relief</a>
Screen capture of SVI map via Direct Relief

The map has some counties where the color doesn’t match the SVI rating, possibly because this was a custom request that they did in a few hours. But, if you go to the live map on their site, you can click on each county to see the rating.

Kentucky has seven counties rated “most vulnerable,” and six of those are in the path of Florence (Butler is the other):

  • Martin (.9933)
  • Perry (.9653)
  • Knox (.9946)
  • Bell (.9987)
  • Leslie (.9121)
  • Letcher (.9344)

All other counties in Florence’s path are rated “very vulnerable,” which is still concerning.

Why does this matter?

Based on the SVI, if Hurrican Florence swings up through East Kentucky, it could cause significant disruption in counties that are the least resilient. Some of the issues those counties will deal with:

  • Lack of relief supplies
  • Lack of relief facilities
  • Inaccessible geography
  • Poor roads and bridges
  • Less-resilient electrical grid
  • Less-resilient water supply systems
  • Lack of funds for either relief or rebuilding

These are all exacerbated by the already-existing poverty of the area.

It’s one thing to deal with the right-now destruction of a major hurricane if you live on or near the coast. It’s another thing to deal with the long-term effects of a major weather event when your county does not have the “social resilience” of other counties.

There have been news stories about Kentucky responders traveling to the coast to help with the threat of Hurricane Florence on the coast. Let’s hope our state government is also putting plans in place to respond to the possible disaster in East Kentucky.


Neal Turpin
Dr. Neal Turpin is a recent PhD graduate of the University of Louisville’s School of Urban and Public Affairs, where he focused on public policy and participation, democratic structures, and efficiency. He enjoys spending time with his wife, Sara, working out at the Southeast YMCA, where the two of them met, and teaching Sunday school at Buechel Park Baptist Church. Neal also has an appreciation for trivia, movie scores, and the Muppets.