Weather extremes voted top Ky. story of 2012

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Associated Press

Posted on December 24, 2012 at 10:01 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Punishing weather that spawned late-winter tornadoes and a summer drought has been voted Kentucky's top story of 2012.

Kentucky was hit by a cluster of tornadoes in an early March outbreak that killed 23 people, left thousands of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed and inflicted millions of dollars in damage.

A twister packing winds up to 140 mph tore through parts of eastern Kentucky. The storm killed six people in Morgan County and four more in neighboring Johnson and Lawrence counties. Other tornadoes struck from southern to northern Kentucky.

The town of West Liberty took a direct hit, its small downtown left smashed. In the ensuing months, homes were repaired or rebuilt. Government offices and businesses reopened. Churches posted signs vowing to rebuild.

"If the resilience of the people wasn't there, nothing else would happen," said Tim Conley, the local county judge-executive.

That was followed by a brutal summer drought, made worse by stretches of record-breaking triple-digit heat. Kentucky's corn crop wilted, resulting in a statewide average yield that was less than half the prior year's output.

Still, the farming sector showed its resilience. Despite the dry spell, agricultural economists predicted record farm cash receipts surpassing $5 billion for the first time in the state. Strong commodity prices and crop insurance payments helped offset yield losses.

The one-two punch of the tornado outbreak and the drought was selected as the biggest story in Kentucky this year in voting by subscribers and staff for The Associated Press.

Kentucky's No. 2 story was another championship banner being hoisted at Rupp Arena.

The University of Kentucky men's basketball team won the NCAA championship in the spring, led by a talented crop of underclassmen who then took their talents to the NBA. The Wildcats defeated Kansas 67-59 to win the school's eighth national title and first since 1998.

More than 90 arrests were made in Lexington following unruly celebrations on and around the Kentucky campus.

Kentucky's night in the national political spotlight and a new effort to reduce addiction to prescription painkillers tied for the No. 3 story.

State lawmakers took aim at curbing prescription drug abuse by passing a law that bolstered prescription monitoring and focused on pain management clinics. The action recognized the pervasiveness of improper pill popping and the suffering it causes in a state where more people die from drug overdoses than car crashes.

The law requires all new pain management clinics to be owned by licensed medical providers and to have medical directors in charge. It also requires all doctors, dentists, optometrists, registered nurses and podiatrists who write prescriptions to use the state's prescription monitoring system, known as KASPER.

"No legitimate doctor who is practicing good medicine has anything to fear" from the new law, Gov. Steve Beshear said. "And no patient with legitimate pain needs should have a problem getting the pain medication that they need."

The other story ranked No. 3 was the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan at Centre College.

The small private school and the town of Danville reaped financial dividends from hosting the undercard debate for a second time. The first time was the 2000 contest pitting Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman.

Coming in at No. 5 was Beshear's decision to offer a judgeship to his chief political rival, state Senate President David Williams, a Republican from Burkesville. Williams, a powerbroker for more than a decade in the Senate, accepted the offer and left office. Beshear won re-election last year by easily defeating Williams.

Three stories tied for No. 6 — the decline of coal-mining jobs, the ouster of U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler in the November election and the struggles of former UK basketball star Richie Farmer.

Hundreds of miners found themselves out of work in Kentucky's coal regions, victims of a slumping coal sector as natural gas gained in popularity as a substitute to generate electricity. Benefit fairs were offered to help displaced miners search for new work and to steer them toward available services and benefits.

"The miners and others in communities where coal has historically been the economic engine are beginning to face hardships that should be unimaginable in 2012," Ben Gish, editor of The Mountain Eagle newspaper in Whitesburg, said in his ballot.

Chandler, heir to one of the state's most famous political names, lost his seat in Congress to Republican Andy Barr in a central Kentucky district. Chandler had barely defeated Barr two years earlier.

Chandler's loss leaves just one Democrat — Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville — in Kentucky's congressional delegation next year.

Meanwhile, Farmer's struggles continued even after he lost a bid for lieutenant governor in the 2011 election. Since then, Farmer went through a divorce and was lambasted by the state auditor for his management of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. By late in the year, the one-time rising political star was selling cars in eastern Kentucky.

In the ninth spot was the political battle over redistricting, and the successful challenge of how the legislative districts were redrawn.

Voted as the No. 10 story was Kentucky being granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

The waiver means Kentucky can use a new system it has developed to determine progress in schools without also being held to a federal standard that would label entire schools as failing if one subgroup of students did not score high enough in reading and math tests.

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