When it comes to weather history, the spring months are cluttered with entries relating to tornadoes, and the wreckage and harm they leave behind.
There are individual storm events, like the Dallas Tornado of 1957, which stand out because of great pictures, and thousands of eyewitness accounts. Such memories have a long shelf life.
Other events remain impressive on record due to their sheer immensity. Such is the case with the “Super Outbreak” of April 3-4, 1974. In the short space of 18 hours, an astonishing 148 tornadoes spun their way across 13 states. Never before or since were so many tornadoes spawned in such a short time; it’s the greatest 24-hour tornado count on record in the United States.
The statistics from the event speak for themselves:
>>>315 deaths (number varies from 308-330)
>>>6,000 injuries (number varies from 5,400-6,150)
>>>$600 million in damage (1974 dollars). That would be five to ten billion today.
>>>Six F-5’s and 24 F4’s among the twister total
The above map shows the tracks of the tornadoes that would collectively become the “Super Outbreak”.
There were 15 tornadoes on the ground simultaneously in Indiana that day (one at beginning of blog is captured over Richmond Kentucky); so many in fact, that the National Weather Service (NWS) became overwhelmed. Faced with falling behind in such an extreme emergency, they did something never done before or since: they issued a tornado warning for the whole state!
Immediately following the Super Outbreak, the National Weather Service launched a nationwide upgrade to their weather bulletin system. The direct result of this effort was the widespread use of NOAA weather radio frequencies (along with an awareness campaign) to more efficiently get warnings out to the public. It sped up warning broadcast times while also encouraging the public to use this dedicated source of weather and storm emergency information.
Tornado researcher Ted Fujita, for whom the F- and EF-scales of tornado intensity are named, studied the Super Outbreak damage data extensively. He used the many records obtained from the event to help tornado research move forward. He discovered for example that within an F-5 (now known as an EF-5) tornado, only a small portion of the entire vortex produces F-5 damage. While this is now generally accepted, it was not widely known at the time.
Follow these links to learn more about the Super Outbreak of 1974: