Terry’s Take: The Super Tornado Outbreak of April 1974

Posted on: 6:57 pm, April 4, 2013, by , updated on: 10:31pm, April 4, 2013

Terry Swails Weather Blog

The weather across the nation this week has been tranquil in comparison to what happened 39 years ago. April 3-4, 1974, marks the anniversary of one of the greatest tornado outbreaks in United States history, which stretched from the Deep South all the way to the Great Lakes.

Forecasters were aware something was coming in the days preceding the event. They knew a developing storm system over the central part of the nation had potential to bring severe weather. But lacking today’s technology, the exact location and severity of the outbreak was unknown.

XENIA TORNADO 4/3/1974

XENIA TORNADO 4/3/1974

DESTROYED GRADE SCHOOL XENIA. OH.

DESTROYED GRADE SCHOOL XENIA. OH.

In fact, NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, issued an alert on April 2 stating that they believed the primary threat was going to be confined to the middle and lower Mississippi Valley. This gave many weather offices around the region 24 hours to prepare for the impending outbreak. However, the alert did not include areas further east that ended up hard hit.

SUPER OUTBREAK TORNADO TRACKS

SUPER OUTBREAK TORNADO TRACKS

Two severe weather watches were issued before daybreak Wednesday, April 3 for parts of the lower Mississippi Valley, but few severe thunderstorms were noted in the region. However, by late morning, thunderstorms erupted over the Ohio Valley and rapidly intensified.

PRIMITIVE 1974 RADAR SHOWING XENIA HOOK ECHO

PRIMITIVE 1974 RADAR SHOWING XENIA HOOK ECHO

Throughout the remainder of the day through early night, 28 weather watches were issued which covered an area from the Mississippi River to the East Coast. During that period, the NWS issued about 150 tornado warnings, of which 148 tornadoes were confirmed.

One tornado that went through Brandenburg, Ky. completely destroyed the town. It killed 28 people. Another tornado that went over Xenia, Ohio leveled half the town and killed 33.

The “Super Outbreak” spanned 18 hours and struck 13 states. It killed 315 people and injured 6,100 others. The total damage reached a half billion dollars.  This is considered to be the second worst tornado outbreak in US History surpassed only by the April 27th, 2011 outbreak that killed more than 350 over the southeastern U.S.

REMAINS OF MCKINLEY SCHOOL XENIA, OH. 1974

REMAINS OF MCKINLEY SCHOOL XENIA, OH. 1974