Curious Cbus: Where Is The Elusive "Ohio Valley"?

Sep 13, 2016

This story is a part of the Curious Cbus project. You ask the questions, we find the answers. This question was submitted anonymously.  A listener asked:

“Just where is the ‘Ohio Valley;’ that place TV meteorologists are always talking about?”

We went straight to the source: TV meteorologist Ben Gelber.

Gelber, a meteorologist with WCMH-TV NBC4, says the answer is short-hand.

“The Ohio Valley refers to the Ohio River Valley. Technically a river valley would just be a few miles wide but we tend to broaden our definition," Gelber said.

As it turns out, that definition is quite broad, The center of the valley is, of course, the Ohio River.

But the term encompasses a lot of land north and south of the Ohio and several states, too.

“Loosely defined it includes a good portion of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, extreme southwestern Pennsylvania, extreme northwestern West Virginia, and down to the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers,” Gelber says.

A map of the Ohio River (Black) and it's basin. A lot of this area is where "The Ohio Valley" is.

The Ohio River stretches nearly a thousand miles from Pittsburgh to its junction with the Mississippi River in Cairo, Illinois. It follows, for the most part, a west-south-westerly course. Forecasters sometimes refer to sections of the Ohio River Valley as upper, middle and lower.

“From a weather forecasting standpoint, we sometimes break it down to the upper Ohio River Valley and that would include the city of Pittsburgh as well as Wheeling, essentially the I-70 corridor from Columbus, east; and extending down into northeastern Kentucky,” Gelber says.

So while the actual river valley may only be a few miles wide, forecasters say the term encompasses the lower half of the state of Ohio – which would be in the upper and middle Ohio River Valley along with much of northern Kentucky.

“There’s a middle Ohio Valley – again in part for geographic convenience that would include areas between Columbus and Indianapolis, down through Lexington and Louisville, and then then lower Ohio valley, I would consider Evansville all the way down to the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in southeastern Illinois; including obviously western Kentucky and southwestern Indiana,” Gelber says.

Gelber says the Ohio River Valley can affect the weather.

“It just turns out that weather systems tend to follow the Ohio River Valley. It seems to be a preferred storm track. And it could be the path of least resistance or more likely where the winds can channel into a more homogeneous low area,” Gelber says.

Gelber says this summer’s hot, sticky weather might be due, in part, to moist Ohio River Valley air.

“We saw this summer some of the highest relative and absolute humidity levels on record in the lower Ohio Valley; Louisville, in particular; Cincinnati may have had its third hottest and steamiest summer,” Gelber says.

And, Gelber says, there’s no doubt that the moisture associated with the river plays a role in thunderstorms that cross the broad Ohio Valley region.

If you’re curious about something, let us know. You can submit your questions at wosu.org/curious.

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