April 3rd, 1974 Outbreak Site

Even though this event took place 3 years before my birth, it played a great role in my interest in tornadoes and severe weather. I heard lots of stories growing up and tornadoes could not be discussed without someone mentioning that outbreak.

My parents at the time lived in a little mobile home that was adjacent to my grandparent's house. Dad had to drive about 1.5 hrs away each day for work and would get up really early (like 3 or 4 AM). So naturally, he went to bed very early each evening.

Mom recalls a watch being in effect early that day, hearing it mentioned on the radio. But at some point is was cancelled/discontinued and she never really thought that much more about it.

Dad came home that afternoon and they retired early, as per the usual, with tornadoes not being a second thought. They recalled hearing lots of thunder that evening and night, but weren't really all that concerned with it.

Grandpa on the other hand was very worried. He was disturbed from his sleep by all the thunder and lightning and knew that a very intense storm was on the way. He got out of bed and tried to walk the 200 yards or so to my parent's place to alert them to the approaching storm and to get them into his home, which was more substantial shelter.

As he was trying to walk there, he said he witnessed the most incredible and horrific lightning he had ever seen in his entire life. He said the flashes were nearly constant. And he even described feeling a sensation as if the lightning was burning his skin. At any rate, it must have been an unreal experience because the lightning was enough to drive him back. Knowing how tough and determined my grandfather was, it had to be an incredibly intense experience for him.

My parents managed to spend the night in the mobile home without getting lofted and carried away by a tornado. There was a couple of very close calls. There were 2 F3's that each probably came within 5 miles. One ended to the west and another passed just to the south. But a longer path or a slightly different direction of movement and ol' George T might not have ever been here.

My other grandfather had an even closer call. He lived in Cincinnati at the time. He ran a drycleaning business somewhere in the Cincy area (I can't remember the exact location). But there was a tornado that demolished a restaurant right across the street from his business. He said that when he got the warning (I'm not sure if this was a siren, radio/tv report or from someone who ran inside and announced the tornado's coming), there was little time to react. By the time he was in the basement, he said it was pretty much over. His description of the damage was similar to many descriptions we've heard before. A building across the street demolished, his unscathed. In addition to this, his car was severely dented by what was likely tennis ball to baseball size hailstones.

The April 3, 1974 outbreak was definately an incredible event that touched the lives of many people. I have often been disappointed that I wasn't around at the time to witness it firsthand (as stupid as I'm sure that sounds to some), since it was by far the biggest event to have occurred around here in known history. But I also realize that there wouldn't have been much to witness, since the portion that effected my area happened mostly after dark. And there were no home PC's, internet, links to radar, etc then. In fact, even the tv coverage was horrible. I don't even think there was cable in my area at the time, so the tv coverage would have been limited to one channel via an antenna. Reception was likely very poor during the outbreak, with so many storms between this location and the source in Lexington.

I don't know if we'll ever again see another outbreak of that magnitude (at least in our lifetimes). I'm sure it'll happen again sooner or later. But if it does, I sure will be happy we have modern technology to face it with, and not the ancient tools that were in place in 1974. Considering what those poor guys were forced to work with, they did a remarkable job of forecasting the event and issuing the watches/warnings. If there was any good that came from all the death and destruction that resulted from that outbreak, it was the increased awareness and prepardness it generated. It has undoubtedly saved thousands of lives over the past 31 years.

On 4/3/74 one of the tornadoes in Cincy, an F5, passed about 100 yds. north of my house. Within an hour or so, another tornado passed about 200 yds, from our summer home in southern KY-- all in the same night. Bet we never see that happen again in our lifetimes!
The 4/03/74 Super Outbreak provides an interesting example of just how great a role mesoscale features can play in a severe weather event. There have been plenty of events since then with an equally or even more impressive synoptic setup as far as major surface features (sfc low, fronts), CAPE, shear, etc; but none have produced as many tornadoes, and especially not as many violent tornadoes.

What seems to set the Super Outbreak apart from days like April 26, 1991, November 10, 2002, May 4, 2003, May 30, 2004 etc is that the "outbreak-favorable" synoptic pattern correlated with just the right mesoscale ingredients in the right times and places to allow for maximum density of intense tornadic supercells without the storms going linear or choking each other off.
I've located some radar photos that I'd like to share from the outbreak. These come from two Monthly Weather Review publications. I've noted the approximate location of hook echoes or the actual tornado for these (in the text below). The radar operator changes the display mode from logarithmic (six level contoured) to linear (non contoured).

Some Synoptic Aspects and Dynamic Features of Vortices Associated with the Tornado Outbreak of 3 April 1974
E. Agee, C. Church, C. Morris, and J. Snow
Monthly Weather Review

1917Z (Fig. A)
Cell A: just east of Martinsville, IN
Cell B: 20 nm southwest of Seymour, IN
Cell C: no discernable hook on 125 nm range

1947Z (Fig. B)
Cell A: 10 nm southeast of Indianapolis, or 8 nm southwest of Greenfield, IN
Cell B: 5 nm southeast of Columbus, IN, or 10 nm northeast of Seymour, IN
Cell C: no discernable hook on 125 nm range

2001Z (Fig. C)
Cell A: near Greenfield, IN
Cell B: 10 nm northeast of Seymour, IN, or 15 nm southwest of Greensburg, IN
Cell C: near Depauw, IN
Xenia Cell: Butler/Warren Counties of Ohio, or 25-30 nm northeast of Cincinnati, OH

2019Z (Fig. D)
Cell A: near Kennard, IN
Cell B: just south of Greensburg, IN
Cell C: near New Providence, IN, or 18 nm southwest of Scottsburg, IN
Xenia Cell: over Warren County, OH, or 30 nm northeast of Cincinnati, OH

2053Z (Fig. E)
Cell A: northeast of Parker, IN (cell dissipating)
Cell B: 5 nm north of Brookville, IN
Cell C: near Madison, IN
Xenia Cell: about 5 nm northeast of Xenia, OH
Unlabeled Supercell NE of CVG: hook over southeast Hamilton County, OH (produced F1 in Pickaway Co, OH)
Unlabeled Supercell southwest of Cell C: over Meade County, KY, or 30 nm southwest of Louisville, KY (Brandenburg/Louisville tornadoes)

2103Z: (Fig. F)
Cell A: dissipating
Cell B: dissipating
Cell C: western Switzerland County, IN, or 40 nm southwest of Cincinnati, OH
Xenia Cell: about 10 nm southwest of London, OH, or 30 nm west-southwest of Columbus, OH
Unlabeled Supercell NE of CVG: 25 nm NE of Cincinnati, OH (produced F1 in Pickaway Co, OH)
Unlabeled Supercell southwest of Cell C: between Irvington and Brandenburg, KY

Multiple Vortex Features in the Tornado Cyclone and Occurence of Tornado Families
E. M. Agee, J. T. Snow and P. R. Clare
Monthly Weather Review

Fig. 9
Storm A: tornado near Monticello, IN

Fig. 10
Storm B: 8 nm southeast of Indianapolis, IN
Storm C: 7 nm west-northwest of Seymour, IN
Storm D: tornado estimated 14 nm southwest of Depauw, IN

Fig. 11
Storm C: tornado near Hamburg, IN (last tornado from that cell)
Storm D: hook echo 8 nm southwest of Madison, IN

On The Reliability of Hook Echoes as Tornado Indicators
Gregory S. Forbes (1981)

Forbes studied radar photos from the super outbreak (125 nm range). Twenty-five well defined hook echoes were identified, with 84% of them tornadic, but these represented only 38% of the tornadic echoes. There were 34 non-hook echoes which were tornadic. Non-hook echoes included the "echo with an appendange on it's right rear flank" and the Line Echo Wave Pattern (LEWP). He terms the hook, appendage and LEWP as "distinctive echoes". Fifty-five distictive echoes were identified, with thirty-six of these (65%) tornadic. Nineteen non-distictive echoes produced tornadoes.

Just a brief overview of that paper. This one and the previous two are well worth the read.