Super Outbreak

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Super Outbreak
Paths of the 148 tornadoes
generated during the 1974 Super Outbreak.
Date of tornado outbreak:April 3–4, 1974
Duration1:~18 hours
Maximum rated tornado2:F5 tornado
Tornadoes caused:148 confirmed
Highest winds:
Largest hail:
Damages:$3.5 billion (2005 dollars)
Areas affected:Most of central and eastern North America

1Time from first tornado to last tornado
2Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita Scale

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Super Outbreak
Paths of the 148 tornadoes
generated during the 1974 Super Outbreak.
Date of tornado outbreak:April 3–4, 1974
Duration1:~18 hours
Maximum rated tornado2:F5 tornado
Tornadoes caused:148 confirmed
Highest winds:
Largest hail:
Damages:$3.5 billion (2005 dollars)
Areas affected:Most of central and eastern North America

1Time from first tornado to last tornado
2Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita Scale

The Super Outbreak was the second largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period, just behind the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak. It was also the most violent tornado outbreak ever recorded, with 30 F4/F5 tornadoes reported. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 U.S. states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York; and the Canadian province of Ontario. It extensively damaged approximately 900 square miles (2,330 square kilometers) along a total combined path length of 2,600 miles (4,200 km).[1]

The Super Outbreak of tornadoes of 3–4 April 1974 remains one of the most outstanding severe convective weather episodes of record in the continental United States. The outbreak far surpassed previous and succeeding events in severity, longevity and extent, with the notable exception of the April 2011 Super Outbreak. With a death toll of over 300, this outbreak was the deadliest since the 1936 Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak. Its death toll would also not be surpassed until the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak killed 324 people.

Meteorological synopsis[edit]

Surface map at around 6:00pm CDT on April 3, 1974

A powerful spring-time low pressure system developed across the North American Interior Plains on April 1. While moving into the Mississippi and Ohio Valley areas, a surge of very moist air intensified the storm further while there were sharp temperature contrasts between both sides of the system. NOAA officials were expecting a severe weather outbreak on April 3, but not of the extent which ultimately occurred. Several F2 and F3 tornadoes had struck portions of the Ohio Valley and the South in a separate, earlier outbreak on April 1 and 2, and this earlier storm system included three killer tornadoes in Kentucky, Alabama, and Tennessee. The town of Campbellsburg, northeast of Louisville, was hard-hit in this earlier outbreak, with a large portion of the town destroyed by an F3.[2] Between the two outbreaks, an additional tornado was reported in Indiana in the early morning hours of April 3, several hours before the official start of the outbreak.[3]

On Wednesday, April 3, severe weather watches already were issued from the morning from south of the Great Lakes, while in portions of the Upper Midwest, snow was reported, with heavy rain falling across central Michigan and much of Ontario. St. Louis, Missouri was pounded by a very severe thunderstorm early in the afternoon which, while it did not produce a tornado, did include damaging baseball-sized hailstones.

By the early afternoon, numerous supercells and clusters of thunderstorms developed and the outbreak began quickly, with storms developing in central Illinois and a secondary zone developing near the Appalachians across eastern Tennessee, central Alabama, and northern Georgia. The worst of the outbreak shifted towards the Ohio Valley between 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm EDT where it produced four of the seven F5s over a span of just two hours when three powerful supercells traveled across the area—one in central and southern Ohio, a second one across southern Indiana and Ohio, and a third one in northern Kentucky.[3]

Upper-level winds during the Super Outbreak

During the evening hours, activity again began to escalate farther to the south, with several violent tornadoes crossing the northern third of Alabama. Activity also spread to central Tennessee and eastern Kentucky, with numerous tornadoes, most of which were concentrated in the Cumberland Plateau region. Additional supercells developed across northern Indiana and southern Michigan producing additional violent and/or killer tornadoes between 6:00 pm and 10:00 pm EDT including the Windsor, Ontario tornado.[4] Michigan was not hit as hard as neighboring states or Windsor, with only one twister which hit near Coldwater and Hillsdale causing any fatalities, all in mobile homes; however, thunderstorm downpours caused flash floods, and north of the warm front in the Upper Peninsula, heavy snowfall was reported.

Activity in the south moved towards the Appalachians during the overnight hours and produced the final tornadoes across the southeast during the morning of April 4.[3]

A 2004 survey for Risk Management Solutions, citing an earlier Dr. Ted Fujita study, found that three-quarters of all tornadoes in the 1974 Super Outbreak were produced by 30 'families' of tornadoes; i.e., multiple tornadoes spawned in succession by a single thunderstorm cell.[1] Note that most of these tornadoes were not associated with squall lines. These were long-lived and long-tracked supercells.

Events and aftermath[edit]

Super Outbreak storm system at 2100 GMT on April 3, 1974

Never before had so many violent (F5 and F4) tornadoes been observed in a single weather phenomenon. There were seven F5 tornadoes[5] and 23 F4 tornadoes. The outbreak began in Morris, Illinois, at around 1:00pm on April 3. As the storm system moved east where daytime heating had made the air more unstable, the tornadoes grew more intense. A tornado that struck near Monticello, Indiana was an F4 and had a path length of 121 miles (195 km), the longest path length of any tornado for this outbreak. Nineteen people were killed in this tornado.[6] The first F5 tornado of the day struck the city of Xenia, Ohio, at 4:40pm EDT. It killed 34, injured 1,150, completely destroyed about one-fourth of the city, and caused serious damage in another fourth of the city.[3]

Seven F5s were observed—one each in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, three in Alabama and the final one which crossed through parts of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. 31 were killed in Brandenburg, Kentucky, and 28 died in Guin, Alabama. One tornado also occurred in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, killing nine and injuring 30 others there, all of them at the former Windsor Curling Club. During the peak of the outbreak, a staggering sixteen tornadoes were on the ground simultaneously. At one point forecasters in Indiana, frustrated because they could not keep up with all of the simultaneous tornado activity, put the entire state of Indiana under a blanket tornado warning. This was the first and only time in U.S. history that an entire state was under a tornado warning.[7]

There were 18 hours of continuous tornado activity. The outbreak finally ended in Caldwell County, NC, at about 7:00am on April 4. A total of 319 were killed in 148 tornadoes from April 3 through April 4 and 5,484 were injured.

The 1974 Super Outbreak occurred at the end of a very strong, nearly record-setting La Niña event. The 1973–74 La Niña was just as strong as the 1998–99 La Niña. Despite the apparent connection between La Niña and two of the largest tornado outbreaks in US history, no definitive linkage exists between La Niña and this outbreak or tornado activity in general.[8]

Some tornado myths were soundly debunked (not necessarily for the first time) by tornado activity during the outbreak.[9]

Notable tornadoes[edit]

Xenia, Ohio[edit]

A look at the tornado as it enters the Arrowhead subdivision, in the southwestern part of Xenia. This photo was taken by Homer G. Ramby at Royal Woods Lane and Wilmington Pike, 8.3 miles from Arrowhead.

The tornado that struck the city of Xenia, Ohio stands as the deadliest individual tornado of the Super Outbreak, killing 32 and destroying a significant portion of the town.[3]

The tornado formed near Bellbrook, Ohio, southwest of Xenia, at about 4:30pm EDT. It began as a moderate-sized tornado, then intensified while moving northeast at about 50 mph (80 km/h). The tornado exhibited multiple-vortex structure and became very large as it approached town. Gil Whitney, the weather specialist for WHIO-TV in Dayton, alerted viewers in Montgomery and Greene County (where Xenia is located) about the possible tornado, broadcasting the radar image of the supercell with a pronounced hook echo on the rear flank of the storm several minutes before it actually struck. The storm was visible on radar because of raindrops wrapping around the circulation.[10] The massive tornado slammed into the western part of Xenia, completely flattening the Windsor Park and Arrowhead subdivisions, and sweeping away entire rows of brick homes.[11][12]

When the storm reached central Xenia at 4:40pm, apartment buildings, homes, businesses, churches, and schools including Xenia High School were destroyed. Students in the school, practicing for a play, took cover in the main hallway seconds before a direct hit from the tornado. A school bus dropped on top of the stage the students were practicing on. The steel-reinforced high school building suffered extensive structural damage.[3][13] Several railroad cars were lifted and blown over as the tornado passed over a moving Penn Central freight train in the center of town.[14] It toppled gravestones in Cherry Grove Cemetery, then moved through the length of the downtown business district, passing west of the courthouse, and into the Pinecrest Garden district, which was extensively affected.

The tornado as it is hitting downtown Xenia moving toward the old Xenia high school. This photo was taken by Kitty Marchant on Murray Hill Dr. The houses in the foreground are on Eavey St. and the large red brick structure is a house on S. Columbus St.
The tornado now leaving Xenia through the Pinecrest subdivision heading towards Central State University in Wilberforce. This photo was taken near the corner of Wilshire Dr. and Hollywood Blvd.

The Xenia tornado was recorded on film by one resident, and its sound was recorded on tape by another from inside an apartment complex. Before the tornado hit the building, the resident left the tape recorder on, and it was found after the storm. At the same time a few blocks away, 16 year old Xenia resident Bruce Boyd captured 1 minute and 42 seconds of footage with a "Super-8" 8mm movie camera, a pre-1973 model without sound recording capability. The footage was later paired with the nearby tape recording. The film[15] shows multiple vortices within the larger circulation as the storm swept through Xenia.

Upon exiting Xenia, the tornado passed through Wilberforce, heavily damaging several campus and residential buildings of Wilberforce University.[16] Central State University also sustained considerable damage, and a water tower there was toppled. Afterwards, the tornado weakened before dissipating in Clark County near South Vienna, traveling a little over 30 miles (48 km). Its maximum width was a half-mile (0.8 km) in Xenia. The same parent storm later spawned a weaker tornado northeast of Columbus in Franklin County.[3]

Major structural damage to Xenia High School

32 people were killed in the disaster, and about 1,150 were injured in Xenia. In addition to the direct fatalities, two Ohio Air National Guardsmen deployed for disaster assistance who were killed on April 17 when a fire swept through their temporary barracks in a furniture store. The memorial in downtown Xenia lists 34 deaths, in honor of the two Guardsmen.[17][18] About 1,400 buildings (roughly half of the town) were heavily damaged or destroyed. Damage was estimated at US$100 million ($471.7 million in 2013 dollars).[19]

President Richard Nixon made an unannounced visit to Xenia a few days later. It would be the first (and only) city affected by the 1974 Super Outbreak that he would visit. Upon inspecting the damage, he said:
"As I look back over the disasters, I saw the earthquake in Anchorage in 1964; I saw the hurricanes... Hurricane Camille in 1969 down in Mississippi, and I saw Hurricane Agnes in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. And it is hard to tell the difference among them all, but I would say in terms of destruction, just total devastation, this is the worst I have seen."[20]

President Nixon immediately declared Xenia a disaster area. Although the Federal Disaster Relief Act was already introduced in 1973, it still had not passed Congress. The 1974 Super Outbreak disaster was a catalyst for accelerated passage of the act through Congress in 1974, according to Nixon.[21]

It took several months for the city to recover from the tornado, with the help of the Red Cross and the Ohio National Guard assisting the recovery efforts.[22] Most of the town was quickly re-built afterward. In recognition of their coverage of the tornado under difficult circumstances, the staff of the Xenia Daily Gazette won the Pulitzer Prize for spot news reporting in 1975.[23]

The Xenia tornado was one of two rated F5 that affected Ohio during the outbreak, the other striking the Cincinnati area (see Cincinnati/Sayler Park area tornado, below). Xenia was later struck by two other tornadoes—both a smaller one in April 1989 and a larger one in September 2000, which was an F4 twister that killed one and injured about 100 in an area parallel to and just north of the 1974 path.[24] Before the 1974 storm, the city had no tornado sirens. After the F5 tornado hit on April 3, 1974, ten sirens were installed across the area.[25]

Dr. Ted Fujita and a team of colleagues undertook a 10-month study of the 1974 Super Outbreak. Along with discovering much about tornadoes which was not known before, such as the downburst and the microburst, and assessing damage to surrounding structures, the Xenia tornado was determined to be the worst of the 148 storms.[26][27]

Brandenburg, Kentucky[edit]

Remains of a house that was completely swept away in Brandenburg.
Outbreak death toll
North Carolina6Cherokee4
West Virginia1Fayette1
All deaths were tornado-related

The Brandenburg tornado, also producing F5 damage, touched down in Breckinridge County at 4:25 pm CDT and followed a 34-mile (55 km) path. First producing F3 damage at the north edge of Hardinsburg, the storm intensified as it moved into Meade County, producing F5 damage as it swept through Brandenburg and surrounding rural areas, along the Ohio River before dissipating in Indiana. 31 were killed in the storm including 18 at a single block of Green Street in Brandenburg.[28] The vast majority of homes in the tornado's path were leveled, with many reduced to clean slabs and empty basements. One obliterated home sustained total collapse of its concrete walk-out basement wall.[29] Cars were also thrown and mangled beyond recognition, some of which had nothing left but the frame and tires.[30] Several tombstones in the Cap Anderson cemetery were toppled and broken, and some were displaced a small distance. Most of the trees were debarked or snapped off at the base and thrown. Grass was scoured from the ground in some areas as well.[31] The same storm would later produce tornadoes in the Louisville metro area. A complete description of homes and other structures destroyed in order by the tornado in Brandenburg can be found here.[32]

When the twister struck on April 3, 1974, many of the Brandenburg residents at that time had also experienced a major flood of the Ohio River that affected the area in 1937 as well as numerous other communities along the river, including Louisville and Paducah.

Louisville, Kentucky[edit]

About an hour after the Brandenburg tornado, an F4 tornado formed in the southwest part of Jefferson County near Kosmosdale. Another funnel cloud formed over Standiford Field Airport, touched down at The Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, and destroyed the majority of the horse barns at the center and part of Freedom Hall (a multipurpose arena) before it crossed Interstate 65, scattering several vehicles on that busy expressway. The tornado continued its 22-mile (35 km) journey northeast where it demolished most of Audubon Elementary School and affected the neighborhoods of Audubon, Cherokee Triangle, Cherokee-Seneca, Crescent Hill, Indian Hills, Northfield, Rolling Fields, and Tyler Park. The tornado ended near the junction of Interstates 264 and 71 after killing three people, injuring 207 people, destroying over 900 homes, and damaging thousands of others. Cherokee Park, a historic 409-acre (1.66 km2) municipal park located at Eastern Parkway and Cherokee Road, had thousands of mature trees destroyed. A massive re-planting effort was undertaken by the community in the aftermath of the tornado.[3][33]

Dick Gilbert, a helicopter traffic reporter for radio station WHAS-AM, followed the tornado through portions of its track including when it heavily damaged the Louisville Water Company's Crescent Hill pumping station, and gave vivid descriptions of the damage as seen from the air.[34] A WHAS-TV cameraman also filmed the tornado when it passed just east of the Central Business District of Louisville.[34]

WHAS-AM broke away from its regular programming shortly before the tornado struck Louisville and was on-air live with John Burke, the chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Louisville office at Standiford Field when the tornado first descended. The station remained on the air delivering weather bulletins and storm-related information until well into the early morning hours of April 4. As electrical power had been knocked out to a substantial portion of the city, the radio station became a clearinghouse for vital information and contact with emergency workers, not only in Louisville but across the state of Kentucky due to its 50,000-watt clear-channel signal and the fact that storms had knocked numerous broadcasting stations in smaller communities, such as Frankfort, off the air. Then-Governor Wendell Ford commended the station's personnel for their service to the community in the time of crisis, and Dick Gilbert later received a special commendation from then-President Richard Nixon for his tracking of the tornado from his helicopter.[35]

DePauw, Indiana[edit]

Of the F5 tornadoes produced by the outbreak, the DePauw tornado was the first to form, touching down at 3:20 pm local time. It is probably the least-known of the F5 tornadoes in the outbreak as it traveled through rural areas in southern Indiana northwest of Louisville, traversing about 65 miles (105 km) through parts of Perry and Harrison Counties. F5 damage was observed near the community of Depauw, while areas near Palmyra and Borden were also heavily affected by the tornado. All but 10 homes in Martinsburg were destroyed; and in the Daisy Hill community homes were completely swept away. As the tornado moved through rural areas, many farms were completely leveled. Published photographs of this storm reveal a very wide debris cloud and wall cloud structure, with no visible condensation funnel at times.[3] Overall, six were killed by the storm and over 75 were injured. One of the fatalities occurred when a woman was crushed by a school bus that flew into a ditch in which she was taking cover.[36]

Madison, Indiana[edit]

Soon after the Depauw tornado lifted, the Hanover/Madison F4 twister formed near Henryville and traveled through Jefferson County and leveled many structures in the small towns of Hanover and Madison. Eleven were killed in this storm while an additional 300 were injured. According to a WHAS-TV Louisville reporter in a special report about the outbreak, 90% of Hanover was destroyed or severely damaged, including the Hanover College campus. Despite the fact that no one was killed or seriously injured at the college, 32 of the College's 33 buildings were damaged, including two that were completely destroyed and six that sustained major structural damage. Hundreds of trees were down, completely blocking every campus road. All utilities were knocked out and communication with those off campus was nearly impossible. Damage to the campus alone was estimated at about US$10 million. In Madison alone where seven of the fatalities took place, about 300 homes were destroyed and the tornado also brushed the community of China causing additional fatalities.[36]

The same storm would later strike the Cincinnati area, producing multiple tornadoes including another F5.

Cincinnati/Sayler Park area[edit]

The Cincinnati Area F5 tornado taken near Bridgetown

The Sayler Park tornado was among a series of tornadoes that earlier struck portions of southern Indiana from north of Brandenburg, Kentucky, into southwest Ohio. It began shortly before 4:30 pm CDT or 5:30 pm EDT in southeastern Indiana in Ohio County north of Rising Sun near the Ohio River. It then traveled through Boone County, Kentucky, before reaching its peak intensity in the western suburbs of the Cincinnati Metropolitan area. Most severely affected was Sayler Park at the western edge of the city where F5 damage occurred.[37] Homes were swept away in a hilly area near a lake, and boats were thrown and destroyed. A large floating restaurant barge on the Ohio River was lifted, ripped from its moorings, and flipped by the tornado. It was later recovered several miles downstream.[38] Other areas near Cincinnati also suffered extensive damage to structures. This tornado was witnessed on television by thousands of people, as WCPO aired the tornado live during special news coverage of the tornadoes.

The tornado continued northeastward, passing through multiple neighborhoods and destroying numerous homes. Other areas affected were Bridgetown, Mack, Dent and Delhi. Damage in Delhi was rated as high as F4.[39]

The second so-called F5 "Tri-State" tornado killed 3 and injured over 100 in Hamilton County, Ohio. It was considered the most-photographed tornado of the outbreak.

This tornado dissipated west of White Oak but the same thunderstorm activity was responsible for two other tornado touchdowns in the Lebanon and Mason areas. The Mason tornado, which started in the northern Cincinnati subdivisions of Arlington Heights and Elmwood Place, was rated F4 and killed two, while the Warren County tornado was rated an F2 and injured 10.[3]

Monticello, Indiana[edit]

A close-up of the tornado tracks that occurred in Northern Indiana

This half-mile (0.8 km) wide F4 tornado developed (as part of a tornado family that moved from Illinois to Michigan for 260 miles) during the late afternoon hours. This tornado produced the longest damage path recorded during the 1974 Super Outbreak, on a southwest to northeast path that nearly crossed the entire state of Indiana. According to most records, this tornado formed near Otterbein in Benton County in west central Indiana to Noble County just northwest of Fort Wayne - a total distance of about 121 miles (195 km).

Further analysis by Ted Fujita indicated that at the start of the tornado path near Otterbein, downburst winds (also called "twisting downburst") disrupted the tornado's inflow which caused it to briefly dissipate while a new tornado formed near Brookston in White County at around 4:50 pm EDT and then traveled for 109 miles (175 km).[40] It also struck portions of six other counties, with the hardest hit being White County and its town of Monticello. Much of the town was destroyed including the courthouse, some churches and cemeteries, 40 businesses and numerous homes as well as three schools. It also heavily damaged the Penn Central bridge over the Tippecanoe River. Overall damage according to the NOAA was estimated at about US$250 million with US$100 million damage in Monticello alone.[3][41]

After the tornado struck Monticello, the tornado reached peak strength and completely leveled several farms northwest of town. The tornado then went on to tear through the west side of Rochester, where businesses were destroyed and homes were completely leveled and swept away. Riddle Elementary School was badly damaged as well. The tornado then struck Talma, destroying most of the town, including a fastening plant and the schoolhouse. The tornado continued northeast and struck the south sides of Atwood and Leesburg, with additional severe damage occurring at both locations. The tornado then crossed Dewart Lake and Lake Wawasee, destroying multiple lakeside homes and trailers. The Wawasee Airport was hard hit, where hangars were destroyed and planes were thrown and demolished. The tornado destroyed several buildings as it passed between Ligonier and Topeka, including Perry School and a Monsanto Plant. The tornado then finally dissipated near Oliver Lake airfield.[41]

A destroyed Presbyterian Church in Monticello.

Eighteen were killed during the storm including five from Fort Wayne when their mini-bus fell 50 feet (15 m) into the Tippecanoe River near Monticello. One passenger did survive the fall.[42] Five others were killed in White County, six in Fulton County and one in Kosciusko County.[43] The National Guard had assisted the residents in the relief and cleanup efforts and then-Governor Otis Bowen visited the area days after the storm.

One of the few consolations from the tornado was that a century-old bronze bell that belonged to the White County Courthouse and served as timekeeper was found intact despite being thrown a great distance.[44]

The tornado itself had contradicted a long-time myth that a tornado would "not follow terrain into steep valleys" as while hitting Monticello, it descended a 60-foot (18 m) hill near the Tippecanoe River and damaged several homes afterwards.[9]

Tanner, Alabama (1st tornado)[edit]

As the cluster of thunderstorms were crossing much of the Ohio Valley and northern Indiana, additional strong storms developed much further south just east of the Mississippi River into the Tennessee Valley and Mississippi. The first clusters would produce its first deadly tornadoes into Alabama during the early evening hours.

Most of the small town of Tanner, west of Huntsville in Limestone County, was destroyed when two violent tornadoes struck the community 30 minutes apart. The first tornado formed at 6:30 pm CDT in Franklin County, Alabama and ended just over 90 minutes later in Franklin County, Tennessee, killing 28 people. The tornado first touched down near Mt. Hope,[45] and then tracked into the Mt. Moriah community, where the tornado rapidly intensified and swept away homes and hurled fleeing vehicles, with additional severe damage occurring in the Phil Campbell area, and with numerous homes swept away near Moulton further along the path. A chemical plant was destroyed, and a water pump was completely lifted out of a well house along Highway-157. In one case, the destruction was so complete that a witness reported that the largest recognizable objects among scattered debris from an obliterated house, were some bed-springs.[46]

Intense ground scouring occurred, and red soil was found dug up and plastered against trees. Crossing the Tennessee River as a large waterspout, the storm then slammed into Tanner, where many homes were swept away and pavement was scoured from roads outside of town.[47] The tornado then struck the Harvest area where additional severe damage occurred, including large metal power line truss towers that were ripped from their anchors and thrown. One of the towers was completely missing after the tornado, and was never located.[3][48] Eyewitnesses reported that the tornado was quite large and demolished everything along its 51-mile long path.[49]

Tanner, Alabama (2nd tornado)[edit]

While rescue efforts were underway to look for people under the destroyed structures, few were aware that another violent tornado would strike the area. The path of the second tornado, which formed at 7:35 pm CDT was 50 miles in length, and the storm formed along the Tennessee River less than a mile from the path of the earlier storm; the first half of its path very closely paralleled its predecessor. Many of the structures that were missed by the first tornado in Tanner were demolished along with remaining portions of already damaged structures; the communities of Capshaw and Harvest were likewise struck twice. A man injured in the first tornado was taken to a church in the area, which collapsed in the second tornado, killing him.

Many other structures in Franklin, Limestone and Madison counties were completely demolished, including significant portions of the communities of Harvest and Hazel Green just northeast of Tanner. The tornado crossed into Tennessee, and killed six additional people there before dissapating.[50] [51] The death toll from the two tornadoes was over 50 and over 400 were injured. Most of the fatalities occurred in and around the Tanner area. Over 1,000 houses, 200 mobile homes and numerous other outbuildings, automobiles, power lines and trees were completely demolished or heavily damaged.

The most recent official National Weather Service records show that both[52][53] of the Tanner tornadoes were rated F5.[43][54] However, the rating of the second Tanner tornado is still disputed by some scientists; analysis in one publication estimates F3-F4 damage along the entirety of the second storm's path.[3]

This was the second state to have been hit by more than two F5s during the 1974 Super Outbreak. The next occurrence of two F5s hitting the same state on the same day happened in March 1990 in Kansas, and then in Mississippi on April 27, 2011. Meanwhile, the next F5 to hit the state was on April 4, 1977 near Birmingham.

Tanner was hit by yet another EF5 tornado on April 27, 2011.

Jasper, Alabama[edit]

While tornadoes were causing devastation in the northwestern most corner of the state, another supercell crossing the Mississippi-Alabama state line produced another violent tornado that touched down in Pickens County before heading northeast for nearly 2 hours towards the Jasper area causing major damage to its downtown as the F4 storm struck. Damage was also reported in Cullman from the storm before it lifted.[55]

The Jasper tornado first touched near Aliceville, producing scattered damage as it tracked northwestward. The damage became more intense continuous as the tornado entered Tuscaloosa County. The tornado continued to strengthen south of Berry, and two people were killed near the Walker County line when a church was destroyed. The tornado tore directly through downtown Jasper at 6:57 PM, resulting in severe damage and at least 100 injuries. The Walker County courthouse sustained major damage, and a new fire station was completely leveled. The fireman on duty at the time took shelter underneath a nearby bridge, and survived without injury. The tornado crossed Lewis Smith Lake and moved across the south side of Cullman at 7:40 pm. Multiple homes and shopping centers were damaged or destroyed in the area, resulting in one death and 36 injuries. The tornado finally dissipated northeast of Cullman a short time later.[49]

In total, the storm killed 3 and injured over 150 while 500 buildings were destroyed and nearly 400 others severely damaged. At the same time, a third supercell was crossing the state line near the track of the previous two.

Guin, Alabama[edit]

Another violent tornado developed and devastated the town of Guin, and caused additional severe damage in Delmar. The Guin tornado was the longest-duration F5 tornado recorded in the outbreak, and considered to be one of the most violent ever recorded. It formed at around 8:50 pm CDT near the Mississippi-Alabama border before tearing through Guin and Delmar, and traveling over 100 miles (160 km) to just west of Huntsville before lifting just after 10:30 pm CDT. According to pictures and historical accounts, many homes were completely swept away in Guin. Sections of neighborhoods were obliterated and scattered across fields, and one lot was swept clean of all debris.[3][56] The destruction was so complete, that even some of the foundations were dislodged and swept away as well.[57] According to NWS damage surveyor Bill Herman, "It was just like the ground had been swept clean. It was just as much of a total wipeout as you can have."[58] A very large industrial warehouse structure was completely obliterated and partially swept away, with steel girders twisted and broken.[59] Many trees in the area were shredded and debarked, some of which had sheet metal and mobile home frames wrapped around them. The formation of this tornado was preceded by a number of reports of large hail and straight-line wind damage around Starkville, MS. The path of the Guin tornado was just a few dozen miles south of where the Tanner tornadoes struck about two hours earlier.

The tornado killed 23 in Guin in Marion County and another five in the community of Delmar in Winston County. Close to 300 people in total were injured, and Guin was left in ruins. More than five hundred homes were destroyed and the Bankhead National Forest lost so many trees that the path of the tornado was visible from satellite.

Huntsville, Alabama[edit]

Huntsville was affected shortly before 11:00 pm EDT by a strong F3 tornado produced by the same thunderstorm that produced the Guin tornado. This tornado produced heavy damage in the south end of the city, eventually destroying nearly 1,000 structures.[60]

The tornado first hit Redstone Arsenal, damaging or destroying 99 buildings. But thanks to early warning from a MP picket line on Rideout Road (now Research Park Boulevard (AL-255) ), there were only three, relatively minor, injuries. One of the buildings destroyed was a publications center for the Nuclear Weapons Training School on the Arsenal. For months afterwards, portions of classified documents were being returned by farmers in Tennessee and Alabama. Many homes were badly damaged or destroyed as the tornado passed through residential areas of the city. The Glenn'll trailer park was completely destroyed by the tornado, and some sources list a fatality occurring at that location.[49]

The tornado then reached Monte Sano Mountain, which has an elevation of 1,640 feet (492 m).[61][62] The National Weather Service office at Huntsville Jetport was briefly "closed and abandoned" due to the severe weather conditions.[63]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Risk Assessment Models. "Analysis and reconstruction of the 1974 Tornado Super Outbreak" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-03-03. 
  2. ^ NWS Louisville. "April 1, 1974". Retrieved 2007-03-03. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Grazulis, Thomas P (July 1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. ISBN 1-879362-03-1. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Roger, Edwards (23 March 2012). "What was the biggest outbreak of tornadoes?". The Online Tornado FAQ (by Roger Edwards, SPC). Storm Prediction Center. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  6. ^ Data from the Storm Prediction Center archives, which are accessible through free software created and maintained by John Hart, lead forecaster for the SPC.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  10. ^ Simpson, Jamie (March 31, 2004). "Radar Provides Life-Saving Warnings Of Tornadoes". WHIO-TV (Dayton, Ohio). 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Rosenfield, Jeffrey (2003). Eye of The Storm: Inside the World's Deadliest Tornadoes, Hurricanes, and Blizzards.. Basic Books. p. 320. Retrieved Sep 21, 2013. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Boyd, Bruce (February 10, 2010). "Xenia Ohio Tornado". YouTube. 
  16. ^ Ohio Historical Society. "April 3, 1974: Xenia Tornado". 
  17. ^ by extremeplanet (November 27, 2012). "The Indefinitive List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded (Part IV) |". Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  18. ^ "April 3, 1974 Xenia Tornado Memorial Marker". Retrieved April 18, 2013. 
  19. ^ U.S. Inflation Calculator
  20. ^ John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters (via Richard Nixon) (April 13, 1974). "Remarks During an Inspection Tour of Tornado Damage in Ohio". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 2011-04-25. 
  21. ^ Nixon, Richard M. (1974). "The President’s Remarks at the Bill Signing Ceremony at the White House. May 22, 1974". Presidential Documents: Richard Nixon, 1974 10 (21): 788. Retrieved 2011-04-26. 
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