The Super Outbreak

49 years ago, numerous tornadoes ravaged 13 states in the US.  One of the F5 force tornadoes was the deadliest tornado in American history.  The outbreak was the second largest tornado outbreak ever. It was exceeded only two years ago from April 25 through 28, 2011.SuperOutbreak-map

However, the outbreak of 1974 was the most violent stretch of severe thunderstorms ever.  Officially, 30 tornadoes of F4 to F5 magnitude touched ground.  Altogether, from April 3rd to April 4th, officials confirmed 148 tornadoes in 13 states and one Canadian province. The cost in human lives numbered over 330. That figure was surpassed only by the 2011 outbreak’s death toll of 334.

During the morning of April 3rd, 1974, a large area of low pressure was centered over Kansas.  That low swiftly moved into the upper Great Lakes vicinity by early afternoon. This caused a big tropical airmass which led to the formation of numerous thunderstorm clouds.  Many of the storms consolidated into supercells and storm clusters. The outbreak erupted almost instantly. The first storms hit central Illinois which were accompanied by a secondary area that spanned from eastern Tennessee, central Alabama, on into northern Georgia.

The most severe zone was the shift to the Ohio River Valley. Between 4:30 and 6:30 Eastern Daylight Savings Time, the system spawned four F5 super tornadoes as the result of three extremely strong supercells passing through that area.  After sunset, until 10 pm EDT more killer tornadoes touched ground across Indiana, into Michigan and Windsor, Ontario.  Where the tornadoes did not strike, sometimes massive downpours of rain caused flash flooding.  In Northern Michigan, a heavy snowstorm blanketed the ground.

Xenia, Ohio

Xenia, Ohio

The single worst funnel of the entire outbreak formed near Bellbrook, Ohio around 4:30pm EDT as a moderate sized twister.  As it moved to the northeast the tornado grew into a multiple-vortex system and grew very large as it approached Xenia, Ohio. The half-mile wide twister destroyed much of Xenia. The upper level of Xenia High School was torn away. A school bus landed onto a stage in the auditorium where only seconds earlier, students had been practicing for a play.  Apartment buildings, businesses, churches, homes and other schools were left in ruins. The death toll, in Xenia, was estimated at around 36 people.

Another F5 tornado built up enough strength to strike Brandenburg, Kentucky.  31 people were killed in that tornado.

Three direct fatalities and three deaths in the aftermath of an F4 tornado was the human toll in the Louisville, Kentucky twister.

An F5 funnel destroyed numerous farms and heavily damaged several villages and small towns near Depauw, Kentucky. Six deaths and over 75 injuries were reported from that system.

Another F4 tornado was reported near Madison, Indiana. Yet another F5 tore through the Sayler Park area of Cincinnati, Ohio. The most visible tornado of the outbreak killed 21 people.

Tornado Alley

People in Tanner, Alabama suffered through two massive tornadoes during the outbreak. The first passed through town after 6:30pm Central Daylight Savings Time. It caused severe damage after it crossed the Tennessee River as a waterspout then destroyed homes and removed the pavement from roads. The twister travelled 51 miles, wiping out everything in its path. Then, while rescue efforts were taking place in Tanner, a second massive tornado came along, following the same track as the first storm, it destroyed what wasn’t wrecked in the first twister. Both Tanner tornadoes were rated at F5.

More extreme tornadoes were reported through Jasper, Guin, and Huntsville, Alabama. Three deaths were reported in Jasper, 28 died in or around Guin, but only three minor injuries were reported in Huntsville.

The outbreak had another near record strike.  The twister that tore through Windsor, Ontario was one of the worst ever in Canadian history.  It was an F3 funnel that killed nine and injured more than 20 people.  The storm was especially dangerous because it arrived in the dark. It first damaged a shopping mall that was being remodeled. It then removed the roof of part of Chrysler Canada’s Assembly factory, which was vacant due to the re-tooling schedule. The twister then ripped off the roof of the Windsor Curling Club at 8:09pm. That caused the collapse of a wall, crushing people inside the building. Nobody knew about the tornado warnings issued 20 minutes earlier by authorities. All of the Windsor fatalities were at the Curling facility.

There were some positive developments that came about in the aftermath of the super outbreak. The most important being an improvement in the detection and warning systems by the National Weather Service. Upgraded radar and spotter services have been deployed and the weather radio networks were given a major upgrade.

We are now in the heart of the storm season in the Great Plains and the Midwest areas of North America.  This is the time to be extra alert to storms and to keep in touch with broadcasts that signal the approach of thunderstorms and possible tornadoes.


The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that the worst Canadian tornado went through Windsor, in 1946, less than 100-metres from the 1974 event.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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3 Responses to The Super Outbreak

  1. gpcox says:

    Whoa! What photos!

  2. Teodoro Orebaugh says:

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