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Here's what you need to know about Thunder Over Louisville on both sides of the river

Thunder Over Louisville is expected to draw 725,000 attendees in 2020.
Kentucky Derby Festival
Thunder Over Louisville is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of attendees in 2023.

From weather, to parking, to safety — we’ve got you covered for this Saturday’s pyrotechnic extravaganza.

Though visitors to this year’s Thunder Over Louisville likely won’t be greeted by the sunniest of skies, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to descend on Louisville and Southern Indiana Saturday for the annual fireworks spectacular that marks the beginning of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

If you're planning to go, here’s what you need to know:

Weather forecast

Record high temperatures for Thunder Over Louisville in 2022 likely will not repeat this year. Attendees probably won’t see sunny skies this year either. The National Weather Service predicts a mostly sunny day with a chance of showers in the morning. Temperatures are expected to reach of high in the 60s with the temps dipping into the low 50s and high 40s around firework time.

According to Matt Gibson, the CEO of the Kentucky Derby Festival, they do not expect an issue with the weather that may limit the show, but they are prepared for the possibility of a “flat show” if the cloud ceiling is too low.

“Right now, we're not anticipating that but as you know, things can change,” Gibson said. “The aircraft might not do the level of aerobatics and those dynamic movements and maneuvers that you would typically see, but it would still be very entertaining.”

Schedule of events

People can enter Waterfront Park's North Great Lawn as early as 9 a.m. Saturday. Camping out overnight is not allowed. The Chow Wagon and its more than 100 food and drink vendors and fun family activities kick off by 11 a.m. The airshow begins around 3 p.m., then the firework show will blast off at 9:30 p.m. and lasts until 10 p.m. Just before the fireworks, LG&E will host the third annual Drone Show.

The theme for this year is “Through the Decades,” recalling the event’s 30-year history.

There will also be a tribute to those who have died in mass shootings and other homicides in the past couple of weeks in Louisville at around 9 p.m., after the airshow.

“Our hope is that as we bring those folks together through our events, in the coming weeks, we can help be a part of that healing process,” Gibson said. “[It] will be a message from the community for the community to honor those, not only at the Old National Bank, [but also] our first responders, and then the tragic events of this past weekend.”

Street closures

In Louisville, some streets in downtown Louisville will be closed as early as 10:30 a.m. Friday. For a complete list of street closures, click here.

Clark Memorial Bridge, known as the Second Street Bridge, is closed from 9:45 a.m. Thursday to 2 p.m. Sunday. Police said the bridge may open sooner Sunday depending on the speed of cleanup efforts. The Kennedy Memorial Bridge on Interstate 65 northbound will be closed from 5 p.m to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, southbound lanes will be closed from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m..

Portions of I-65 and I-64 will be closed from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday during the fireworks display.

For Southern Indiana, you can find a lists of road closures and no-parking zones in Jeffersonville and Clarksville.

Parking

There’s no street parking in downtown Louisville or on other major routes, like River Road, all day Saturday. Officials recommend parking as far away from the event venue as you can comfortably walk because traffic in the area will be congested after the fireworks display. LMPD Sgt. Ron Fey also recommended parking in the direction that you will need to return home. For example, everyone west of Second Street will be directed onto I-64 westbound.

That said, parking at some PARC garages and lots will be available on the day of the event and for online reservation in advance.

If parking doesn’t seem worth the hassle, TARC is offering free rides all day Saturday. There will be five designated post-Thunder stops along the waterfront, but those are the only downtown boarding options. For an updated map, click here.

Residents in Jeffersonville can get a parking pass from the Jeffersonville Police Department that allows people to drive through closed residential streets before 5 p.m. Saturday, provided they have their own off-street parking. Some public and private parking is also available in Southern Indiana, like at the Water Town Square in Jeffersonville.

Thunder no-nos

You can’t bring or do the following things in the viewing areas on the Kentucky or Indiana sides of the river:

  • No drones. Police said they will be using drone detection devices, and anyone found flying one within five miles could face a whopping $11,000 fine.
  • No tents or canopies.
  • No roping off large areas.
  • No overnight camping. Waterfront Park closes at 11 p.m. Friday.
  • No grills.
  • No glass bottles or containers. Plastic is fine, though.
  • No bikes. There will be bike parking at Bingham Way and Witherspoon Street, the corner of Preston and Witherspoon streets and the bases of the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge.
  • No pets unless they are service animals.

The Indiana side of the festivities have a few extra prohibitions: no laser pointers, no aerosol cans or noxious gasses, no open carry of alcoholic beverages except on private property and no silly string.

But plenty of things are allowed inside the Thunder viewing area. Visitors can bring their own food and drinks, picnic blanket or 10x10 tarp and lawn chairs.

Safety and Communication

Last week, 14 people died by homicide in Louisville. The city continues to grieve after two mass shootings and several other shootings that also left over a dozen people injured.

“We're also going to give the people of Louisville who have dealt with so many challenges, and far too much tragic violence, an amazing airshow and amazing fireworks,” said Mayor Craig Greenberg at a news conference. “In this difficult time, the Kentucky Derby Festival and the Kentucky Derby could not come at a better time to bring our city together.”

Public safety officials on both sides of the river say they hope to make it as safe as possible for visitors and residents. LMPD said the plans haven’t changed because of recent events, but they have a “robust and comprehensive plan” in place. Saturday is an “all work” day for the department, meaning the full force of the LMPD and several other agencies will be in downtown Louisville for the festivities.

“We take it very serious to provide public safety for all those in attendance, and it has been every single year,” said Maj. Joshua Lynch of the Jeffersonville Police Department. “We strive to accommodate businesses and residents, but we do not concede public safety. Every year there are areas of concern, but the same men and women that have been working for yours to protect the public are here.”

To get emergency information, traffic updates, missing children updates, and more for Southern Indiana patrons, text “ThunderIN23” to 226787. On the Louisville side, if you’ve already signed up for LensAlert, then you’re set. If not, text “Thunder” to 67283 to sign up for Thunder Over Louisville specific alerts.

Breya Jones contributed to this report.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.