Tornado outbreak of 1974 caught many off guard - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Tornado outbreak of 1974 caught many off guard

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The forecast on the front of the newspaper for April 3rd, 1974 was 'Windy and warm with a chance of showers."

The next day, it read like this:


Needless to say, they got the windy part right!

Tornadoes tore through the U.S. in what's now known as the Super Outbreak of 1974. It ranks as the worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history.

The day started out like most any other early spring day in the Ohio Valley. Temperatures were in the 50s, the sky was partly cloudy and there were a few showers dotting the landscape. To the average person, there was nothing unusual about the morning of April 3, 1974.

However, for meteorologists and forecasters working that day, there was angst in the air. Just two days prior on April 1st, severe weather struck much of the region and produced a few strong tornadoes, including one that struck the town of Campbellsburg, KY.

Now it appeared that the ingredients for an even stronger outbreak were coming together.

Forecasters were concerned about a number of ingredients that were coming together. Jet Stream Winds, Low Pressure System, Gulf Moisture, Capping Inversion and Timing (Peak Heating).

Dave Reeves with the National Weather Service had an ominous warning for meteorologists on April 2: "Be ready, tomorrow may be the biggest outbreak we've had."

Despite the strong wording coming from the Storm Prediction Center, local forecasters had no way of knowing the magnitude of the event that was about to unfold.

"We didn't have any idea what was going to blossom," Reeves said.

But blossom it did.

Forty years ago, between 1 p.m. on April 3 and 7 a.m. the following morning, the Eastern U.S. was overwhelmed by a record setting 148 tornadoes that tracked across 13 states between the Gulf Coast and the Canadian Border. The storms took 315 lives while injuring 6,000 more.

However, it wasn't just the sheer number of tornadoes that made the 1974 Outbreak so remarkable, it was the intensity of the storms.

The Super Outbreak produced a staggering amount of violent tornadoes with 30 of them reaching F-4 status or stronger.

To put this into perspective, on average the United States sees less than one (1) F-5/EF-5 tornado each year. On April 3, 1974 there were seven (7) of them!

And two of them were in our own backyard.


Reeves recalls the aftermath.

"I got a chance to meet with Dr. Fujita from the University of Chicago and survey the Brandenburg storm and the one that stuck Southern Indiana where there were these concrete slab homes, and there was nothing left but the concrete slabs, nothing," Reeves said.

Locally, there were about a dozen tornadoes that occurred across our viewing area. Nine of these storms were considered violent and two of them would be classified as F-5s!

Hardest hit areas were Brandenburg, Palmyra, Borden, Hanover, Elizabethtown, Campbellsville and Frankfort.

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