In 1974, what has been dubbed the “Super Outbreak” of tornadoes brought death and misery from Alabama to Indiana, killing 330 people and injuring over five thousand. The tornado count was 148 for those two days, still a record until this year.
Doppler radar had scarcely been invented in 1974 and none were operational to warn the public. It was not fully deployed by the National Weather Service until the mid 1990s. So, why did a similar outbreak kill so many in 2011?
Many of the tornadoes were huge and contained winds not survivable above ground. In May of 1999, a giant tornado swept through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore. There was plenty of warning from both the NWS and local television, but 40 people still perished.
Television meteorologist Gary England was quoted as saying the intense portion of the tornado was not survivable above ground. This same condition accounted for many deaths, but not all, in the April 27, 2011 tornado swarm.
For instance, reports posted on the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) website attribute deaths to people trapped in mobile homes or outdoors. A tornado with winds of 100mph or more is usually not survivable in a mobile home.
The event was well advertised even the previous day and all agencies were at the top of their game. The bottom line is when huge tornadoes sweep through, if you are not in an underground shelter or safe room your risk of death is much higher than in a typical "weaker" tornado.
Only 2% of all U.S. tornadoes are EF4 (166-200 mph) or EF5 (above 200 mph) strength, and there’s typically only a few dozen in the whole of America per year. We’ve seen several years worth of them in the historically tragic weather month of April 2011, and many both large and medium-strength tornadoes have been in heavily populated areas, just like in 1974.
Here in Texoma, Tushka is stark example of that fact when an EF3 destroyed half of the town, killed 2 and injured 43 on April 14.