1974-04-03/04: IL, IN, MI, OH, TN, KY, etc Super Outbreak

Darrin Rasberry

This is "the big one," and we all know about it, but I am curious to hear in specific from those who may have had the opportunity to chase/spot in these areas at this time, or who have heard stories from those chasing or spotting, to get a chasing perspective on what it was like to be around this 148 tornado monster. I would also like to know the gritty on the setup for the day ... I remember reading somewhere that CAPE was only in the triple digits/~1000 j/kg but that the shear was ridiculous. Looking forward to a good convo to learn even more about this day!
 
At the time, I was only twelve so obviously didn't do any spotting or chasing.....but just from what I saw and heard via local tv and radio storm/ weather reports, knew it was one heck of a tornadic event here in north Georgia. Ironically due to my age and limited technology at the time (no cable tv, no internet, etc), I didn't learn about the tornado catastrophe's in Alabama, middle Tennessee, Kentucky, or points farther north until the next evening (network news covering Brandenburg and Xenia).

As for the atmospheric parameters which spawned the superoutbreak, I'm certain CAPE had to be very high, at least over the Tennessee and north Alabama activity; surface dewpoints reached 70 as far north as southern Tennessee. Here west of Atlanta, it was an extremely oppressive, muggy late afternoon and overnight; definitely "tornado weather" as area old timers would say.

Here's an interesting read on the superoutbreak and many other historical tornado outbreaks. Per this website and others I've researched, surface CAPE reached 3400 across the Alabama and Tennessee tornado affected areas; lift indices were as high as -12 in north Alabama....and -8 to -10 as far north as central Indiana/ western Ohio.

http://bangladeshtornadoes.org/UScases.html
 
Here is a nice page from the Huntsville, Alabama NWS site on this event in the Tennessee Valley Region:

http://www.srh.noaa.gov/hun/April1974/index.php

The overall stats from this day are amazing...

Number of tornadoes: 148, including 24 F4s and 6 F5s
States affected: 13
Number of fatalities: 335
Number of injuries: 6100+
Number of buildings destroyed/major damage: 13000+
Total damage path length: 2500 miles
 
Dec 4, 2003
697
0
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Norman, OK
I didn't chase this event, but I was on the disaster team that responded to the F1 near Knoxville, TN. We had 2 killed (a set of one month old twins), and I believe 12 injured as the tornado demolished a small trailer park. The tornado formed on top of a ridge line and dropped into the valley at approximately 11:30pm, then lifted as it topped the ridgeline on the opposite side of the valley.
I spoke with Dr. Forbes about the tornado a couple of years ago at the convention, and he remembered being with Dr. Fujita as he did the damage survey on the tornado.
 

cdcollura

EF5
Jun 12, 2004
1,386
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Sunrise, Florida
www.sky-chaser.com
Good day all,

I came across this quite a while back and figured I'd post the link to it here. Apparently a pilot had an encounter with the Ohio supercell that was not for the faint of heart...

http://www.xeniatornado.com/pilot.htm

An excerpt from this site (based on Homer G. Ramby's site and from an to him email by Robert Schwarts) is also below...

"On april 3 1974 I was flying in a twin engine airplane which when we left Louisville Kentucky. (actually from Haps airport in Jeffersonville In. ) we studied the weather and found it strange. We delayed our trip for about one and one/half hours before deciding to go ahead and go up to Mad River Ohio to install a radio in an airplane so we could fly it back to Jeffersonville for repairs. We were almost to Cincinnati when everything went crazy. the instruments went crazy and the lights went out. we were blind as It turned pitch-black outside and the plane actually started flying backwards and we could feel ourselves being bounced to the overhead and then thrown to the dash then back against the seat. We had no control of the plane. Our radio was nothing but noise and we could not get through to the Cincinnati airfield. Our transponder was out also. Finally the air control answered our emergency call and had us make a try at turning 90 degrees after we maintained some control of the plane. They said there was so much debris in the air they could not find us. Finally they had us make another turn and they said that they thought they had us. It was still pitch black and we could not see anything. They maneuvered us several times and confirmed they had us. They told us to make a 90 and corrected us as our instruments meant nothing. They told us to continue as fast as we could to our destination. They said to drop in altitude several times and finally after following their directions they said we should see the end of the runway (NOW) and sure enough we broke through the clouds and we were 10 feet off the runway when we broke through the blackness. As we landed we rushed to the hanger and tied the plane down. 5 Minutes later the radio announced that the tornado was tearing through Xenia Ohio. This was quite a trip and hope that anyone caught in a tornado like that has the opportunity to tell his tale. I was very lucky. My Brothers business In Louisville was hit bad and he was almost wiped out. What an EXPERIENCE.. Survivor of one of the most harrowing experiences."

His entire site on the Ohio storms in 1974 is also at: http://www.xeniatornado.com.
 
Dec 5, 2003
125
3
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Cincinnati, Ohio
The other day, I found this webpage that has airchecks from WHAS radio in Louisville. The 4/3/74 section has about 8 hours worth of high quality audio (mp3) files of their coverage of the event. It begins somewhere around 5:30 PM EDT when the warnings were issued around the Louisville area and ends later in the night.

http://www.lkyradio.com/WHASairchecks.htm#1970s

The interesting part for me was listening to the tornado warnings as the came out. It was common for a single warning to contain multiple counties. Certain areas were under warnings more than once, especially in the Louisville and Cincinnati areas.
 

Dennis Dennison

I lived in Toledo, Oh in a Mobile home at the time. If you remember back then you could tune the TV to channel 2 ( I think) and if the "FUZZ"" became a narrow band in the middle it meant a tornado was closely. Well I was outside, and there was a massive tall storm rolling in- I had never seen such a tall storm, soon it began to storm big time, the wind began to blow very hard, and the lightning was the most extreme I had ever seen. I saw the TV shrink down, the lightning became so severe and fast I thought for sure it was going to come inside through a window. the wind was so high that everything in the open field behind the house was laying flat. At this point the rain and hail were blowing horizontally. I actually laid down in the living room floor and dug my fingers deep into the carpet as I fully expected the trailer to go airborne. The entire home was shaking and vibrating and it was loud. So eventually the storm passed, and even though there was no tornado, it was intense
 
Jan 28, 2009
119
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Conrad, Iowa
I lived in Toledo, Oh in a Mobile home at the time. If you remember back then you could tune the TV to channel 2 ( I think) and if the "FUZZ"" became a narrow band in the middle it meant a tornado was closely. Well I was outside, and there was a massive tall storm rolling in- I had never seen such a tall storm, soon it began to storm big time, the wind began to blow very hard, and the lightning was the most extreme I had ever seen. I saw the TV shrink down, the lightning became so severe and fast I thought for sure it was going to come inside through a window. the wind was so high that everything in the open field behind the house was laying flat. At this point the rain and hail were blowing horizontally. I actually laid down in the living room floor and dug my fingers deep into the carpet as I fully expected the trailer to go airborne. The entire home was shaking and vibrating and it was loud. So eventually the storm passed, and even though there was no tornado, it was intense
Back in the 60's a guy named Newton Weller claimed you could detect a nearby tornado by using your television set. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the story. I believe Weller said if you warmed up your set (tubes in those days) and turned it to channel 2 and darkened the screen to black, a nearby tornado would cause the screen to glow bright white.
 
Dec 18, 2010
137
0
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Florida Panhandle
I was 9 years old living in Paducah and my fascination with the weather was still merely a flicker. I certainly don't remember much about that particular day in my childhood, but there were very few days that I can remember when my Dad was noticably nervous about the weather.
My Dad was one of those that never seemed to pay much attention to the weather, but that didn't mean that he was dumb about it either. I have read a lot about this event since then and I am convinced that this is one of them Dad was nervous about. It appears that of the worst of it occurred after the system was east of us in weastern KY.
 
Jul 2, 2004
1,775
90
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Hastings, Michigan
www.stormhorn.com
The other day, I found this webpage that has airchecks from WHAS radio in Louisville. The 4/3/74 section has about 8 hours worth of high quality audio (mp3) files of their coverage of the event. It begins somewhere around 5:30 PM EDT when the warnings were issued around the Louisville area and ends later in the night.

http://www.lkyradio.com/WHASairchecks.htm#1970s

The interesting part for me was listening to the tornado warnings as the came out. It was common for a single warning to contain multiple counties. Certain areas were under warnings more than once, especially in the Louisville and Cincinnati areas.
That is an exceptionally cool link, Nick. Thanks for providing it. I thought I'd seen pretty much everything available online on the Super Outbreak, but this is new to me.
 
Jan 28, 2009
119
0
5
Conrad, Iowa
It was very interesting to listen to the live communication with the NWS office in Louisville. The fact that an earthquake occurred in the area during the peak tornado activity is amazing.
 
Jul 2, 2004
1,775
90
11
Hastings, Michigan
www.stormhorn.com
I noticed the announcement of the earthquake, too. Talk about weird!

It's sobering to hear how the event developed, with the newscaster delivering solid warnings but not sounding particularly concerned, moving to a sense of increased urgency that set in as first the weather bureau staff at Standiford Field took shelter, and then reports of the tornado's progress through the town filtered in, including that of the helicopter newscaster.

Interesting was the advice to listen for the sound of the tornado, which, the public was told, would be "quite loud" and an unmistakable warning. Anyone on this forum who's chased knows what bad advice that was.

I'm presently listening to part IV. It's absolutely fascinating to get a sense of how Louisville responded even as new storms began to threaten the area.
 
Jan 28, 2009
119
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Conrad, Iowa
Something else that is very apparent is how we have become used to instant/live coverage of severe weather just about anywhere in the country. There was an active tornado warning in effect for the Louisville area with the report(s) of a tornado. There was a period of time in which no information was available about the exact location of the tornado even though it was moving through a metropolitan area.
 
Dec 5, 2003
125
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Cincinnati, Ohio
Here's some radar pictures I've collected over the years:

From the Cincinnati WSR-57 radar (including the Xenia hook echo):














Views of the Xenia cell from the Wright-Patterson AFB radar (CPS-9):






Xenia cell from the WHIO-TV radar



Monticello storm viewed from the Marseilles, IL radar:


 

Donovan Gruner

Thank you for sharing those, Nick. Those are some amazing pieces of weather history.
 

E. Clark

EF0
Mar 18, 2010
48
0
5
Currently - Tahoe area
Thank you, those images are fascinating. Especially since my father had been with SAC at Wright Patt. up into the 70's. I do remember WHIO-TV well and seeing radar such as that image being broadcast. I posted a little about my experience with the Tornadoes that day. I had forgotten that my Grandmother at the time was a supervisor at Westinghouse in Columbus and was driving a friend home who had a camera with him. He took an extraordinary image of one of the tornadoes while driving somewhere near West Broad St. to the west of Columbus and sent it the next day to the Columbus Dispatch- where it eventually ended up on the front page. It was an amazing (for the time) image of this gorgeous, perfect tornado. Since I was reminded of that by a family member I have thought about writing to the Dispatch and seeing if they have the image still. The next time I saw a tornado as close as the ones in '74 was in Cardington, Ohio in '81.

I lived just outside Xenia in 1974 on a farm. I was 13.

I remember these things: The horses were upset the night before and being strangely 'vocal' and restless so that I went to the barn to settle them late, after dark, maybe around 10pm or so.
The next day early I played with the dog in the acre of grass beside our house- tossing a ball and such. But it felt like I was in some strange alien world as the sky was just this unearthly color and it tinged everything 'stronger' like it was saturating the colors of the grass and even the skin on my arm.

I noticed my arm because the other thing was that the hairs on my arm kept sticking up with these tingles that ran up them. I was 'goosebumpy' all day.

The wind started picking up pretty strongly. It was more gusty than steady. My mom came out and had me go with her to the barn to turn the horses out and open the gates to the bigger acres out back. They ran back there like the devil was after them. I remember the dust they kicked up and how it made little swirls in the air.

Then we went to the house (and the wind was even stronger) to the basement where we had water-bottles, blankets, candles, etc. We always went to the basement before there were any alarms, 'just in case' like my mom said.

I heard alarms faintly then about the time I got to the other wall of the basement where we 'camped out' during bad weather/tornado watches.

Then I heard that sound and I saw 2 tornadoes in the distance, one that came close enough that it stripped aluminum roofing off the barn- which I could also see from the tiny basement window. I remember looking out - the window was just half above and half below ground level (if you understand what I mean) and what the grass looked like straining toward the funnels- flattened. This was in the country to the south and west of West Jefferson.

I can tell more but do not want to take up too much space here.

We moved not long after this. At my new school I saw a girl who looked familiar and we figured out that she went to the same school I had gone to in '74.
Her name was Julia and her father died in Xenia so the family moved away from the memories. Odd that we ended up at the same school again. But weird things happen with tornadoes.
 
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I was living in Athens, Ohio at the time. It was an unusually hot day, and all day long, storms swung west through north of my location. It was three years before I would begin my storm hunting. Around dinner time an amazing mammatus sky broke out, but the real weather moved in just after 11 pm. A strong thunderstorm passed on, leaving winds of about 20 MPH gusting to about 35. Bit by bit the winds intensified, and as this occurred, strobes of C-C lightning arose in the SW distance, curling across the sky.Winds slowly increased till they reached hurricane or near hurricane force from the SW. A tremendous scream filled the air, like a crowded football stadium with alternating booing and cheering. At that point, lightning crested directly overhead, and occasional rifle-like BOOMS from cracking branches rang out. It was absolutely profound. Then winds very gradually began to subside and lightning began passing into the SE and E distance. After another 10 minutes or so, winds returned to 20 MPH. It was like a mini-hurricane and there was some structural damage reported across the County.
 
Mar 3, 2012
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This is probably a long shot, but does anyone here have any photos of the damage in and around Guin? I've been searching for a while and I've got a few, but most of them don't show the worst of the damage. The best I've seen thus far is a video from ABC 33/40 that has some photos and video from the aftermath. I've contacted the library, city hall and historical society in Guin/Marion County, as well as the Huntsville Times, but no one seems to be able to help. There have got to be photos out there somewhere.
 
This is probably a long shot, but does anyone here have any photos of the damage in and around Guin? I've been searching for a while and I've got a few, but most of them don't show the worst of the damage. The best I've seen thus far is a video from ABC 33/40 that has some photos and video from the aftermath. I've contacted the library, city hall and historical society in Guin/Marion County, as well as the Huntsville Times, but no one seems to be able to help. There have got to be photos out there somewhere.
This color 16mm movie film of the damage from Guin may be of interest to you, if you have not viewed it so far.

http://youtu.be/WhbYs5DUUl4
 
Mar 3, 2012
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Oh yeah, I forgot about that one. Thanks Blake! It's frustrating to have so little documentation of such a significant tornado. I suppose that's the case with many tornadoes though.
 
Dec 8, 2003
1,282
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Southeast CO
www.youtube.com
I'm not sure how I missed this thread before, but I did. I was 16 and living on the north side of Columbus Ohio. This event is as much responsible for me being a stormchaser as anything else... this and The Wizard of Oz.

I didn't see anything memorable that day. I don't even remember what I was doing. Hell, I was probably at a friend's house smoking pot and listening to Black Sabbath and Rush. What I do remember is that on April 5 the Columbus Dispatch had page after page after page of coverage. I think that of the 80-or-so page edition of the paper that day the first 40 pages were photos and articles about the outbreak. Bit of trivia, which I think I learned from reading the book referenced below: Hank Aaron was playing a game against the Reds in Cincy on that day, and apparently saw the Xenia tornado on his drive to the park!

Here is another web page that might interest some of you. It has been bookmarked on my computers for 13 years:
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/extremes/1999/april/extremes0499.html

Anyone with an interest in the Super Outbreak should absolutely read this book:
http://www.amazon.com/F5-Devastation-Survival-Violent-Outbreak/dp/1401352200/ref=sr_1_1/181-4908742-1964827?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399073757&sr=1-1&keywords=F5+Mark+Levine


 
Dec 5, 2003
125
3
6
Cincinnati, Ohio
Bit of trivia, which I think I learned from reading the book referenced below: Hank Aaron was playing a game against the Reds in Cincy on that day, and apparently saw the Xenia tornado on his drive to the park!
Did it really saw he saw the Xenia tornado? This link says he was at the Greater Cincinnati Airport at the time. The story mentions what would of been the Sayler Park tornado (it passed 4 miles to the west of the airport).

http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140419/SPORTS0104/304190050
 
Dec 8, 2003
1,282
244
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Southeast CO
www.youtube.com
I shouldn't have posted that without double-checking the book. I found the passage on page 131:

"Aaron traveled with his team to Cincinnati early the next morning. It was April 3. His flight landed in a thunderstorm. ...learned that practice had been rained out... ...Aaron set out to the airport to pick up his father and brother, who were coming in for the historic game. As he made his way, he said, "I saw funnel clouds in the distance."

"At Cincinnati's Longview State Hospital, it knocked a wall onto a thirty-year-old patient, killing him."

There is nothing about Xenia. I suppose I wrongly jumped to the conclusion that it was the same storm that went through Xenia.