Ask Josh: 1974 Super Outbreak

Meteorologist Josh Fitzpatrick discusses the April 3rd, 1974 Super Tornado Outbreak



It's the 35th anniversary of the worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history.  Leeza in Portsmouth sent me an e-mail the other day saying "Josh, I lived through the Zenia, OH tornado and remember that day like it was yesterday.  The tornado didn't look like a regular one, it was as wide as it was tall.  Thankfully me and my family made it through.  Can you talk about what happen and if this could occur again?"

 The forecast for Wednesday April 3, 1974 was for showers on the East coast and for thunderstorms across the Midwest. In the heavens, a storm of an overwhelming magnitude was forming. Children went to school, people went to work and lives went on as normal until the second worst storm of the 1900's struck. Tornadoes broke across the heartland with such an intensity and frequency never seen before in the United States. Homes, businesses and schools destroyed. Loved ones lost.

Say "the Super Outbreak" to people who lived through one of the most violent tornadic events on record and whether one is a meteorologist or not, nothing more need be said.

The 1974 Super Outbreak spawned 148 tornadoes, the largest number of tornadoes ever produced by one storm system.  Thirty of these tornadoes were classified as F4 or F5 on the Fujita Scale.  A scale that measures the damage and wind speed of a tornado.  F5 is the highest.  Recently the Fujita or "F" scale was enhanced and now it's known as the E-F or enhanced Fujita Scale.  Before the fourteen state rampage was finished, more than 300 people lost their lives in 48 killer tornadoes.

On the morning of April 3rd, an area of low pressure was located in central Kansas.  A warm front extended east-northeastward through the lower Ohio River Valley.  South of this front, extremely unstable air had gathered during the overnight hours and was rapidly spreading north.

 A cold front stretch from the area of low pressure south through Texas.  The the upper levels of the atmosphere, a powerful trough was spreading strong winds aloft (in the clouds) over much of the Eastern half of the country.

 With the warm air in place and a cold front approaching, along with favorable upper air dynamics, intense thunderstorms developed rapidly in the afternoon of April 3rd. Those thunderstorms spawned nearly 150 tornadoes across parts of the Midwest, Ohio and Tennessee River Valleys and Southern states from the afternoon of the 3rd into the early morning hours of the 4th.

An astonishing six F5 tornadoes were spawned. An F5 tornado hit Guin, Alabama, destroying the entire town and killing 20. Fortunately for Huntsville, Alabama, the tornado lifted back into clouds just before reaching the city limits.

Nearly 30 people perished in Brandenburg, Kentucky when another F5 tornado touched down, leaving the town in ruins. Over 300 homes were destroyed and over 2,100 were damaged by an F5 in Xenia, Ohio, which killed 34.  Can this happen again?  My answer is, yes it sure can and will sometime!  Do you remember this?  If so, share your story in the comment section! 

File:Super Outbreak Map.PNG

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