Looking Back at the Superoutbreak of April 3 – 4 of 1974…
April 3, 2014 Leave a comment
40 years ago today, a large portion of the central, southern and eastern US was impacted by a 2 day tornado outbreak. Many people that have lived some time in Alabama know all about this outbreak and what it did… This was a horrible tornado outbreak that killed many, even here in Alabama. Below is a great description of the event from Wikipedia, including details and pictures from Alabama:
The Super Outbreak was the second largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period, just behind the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak. It was also the most violent tornado outbreak ever recorded, with 30 F4/F5 tornadoes reported. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 U.S. states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York; and the Canadian province of Ontario. It extensively damaged approximately 900 square miles along a total combined path length of 2,600 miles.
The Super Outbreak of tornadoes of 3–4 April 1974 remains one of the most outstanding severe convective weather episodes of record in the continental United States. The outbreak far surpassed previous and succeeding events in severity, longevity and extent, with the notable exception of the April 2011 Super Outbreak. With a death toll of over 300, this outbreak was the deadliest since the 1936 Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak. Its death toll would also not be surpassed until the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak killed 324 people.
As the cluster of thunderstorms were crossing much of the Ohio Valley and northern Indiana, additional strong storms developed much further south just east of the Mississippi River into the Tennessee Valley and Mississippi. The first clusters would produce its first deadly tornadoes into Alabama during the early evening hours.
Most of the small town of Tanner, west of Huntsville in Limestone County, was destroyed when two F5 tornadoes struck the community 30 minutes apart. The first tornado formed at 6:30 pm CDT in Lawrence County, Alabama and ended just over 90 minutes later in Madison County, Alabama, killing 28 people. The tornado first touched down near the small community of Mt. Hope, and then tracked into the Mt. Moriah community, where the tornado rapidly intensified and swept away homes and hurled fleeing vehicles, with additional severe damage occurring near Phil Campbell, and with numerous homes swept away near Moulton further along the path. A chemical plant in that area was impacted, and a water pump was completely lifted out of a well house along Highway-157. In one case, the destruction was so complete that a witness reported that the largest recognizable objects among scattered debris from an obliterated house, were some bed-springs. The tornado crossed into Morgan County, causing additional destruction in rural areas near Hillsboro and Trinity. Crossing the Tennessee River as a large waterspout into Limestone County, the tornado flattened a 3/4 mile wide swath of trees on the opposite bank. Ground scouring occurred in this area, as reddish soil was dug up and plastered against trees. The storm then slammed into Tanner, where many homes were swept away, vehicles were tossed, and shrubbery was debarked. The Lawson’s Trailer Park in town sustained major damage, and pavement was scoured from rural roads outside of town. The tornado then continued into Madison County and struck the Harvest area where additional severe damage occurred, including large metal high-tension towers that were ripped from their anchors and thrown. One of the towers was completely missing after the tornado, and was never located. Additional major damage occurred in the Capshaw area. Numerous homes in Harvest and surrounding rural areas of the county were swept completely away and scattered, and extensive wind-rowing of debris was noted. A bathtub from one residence was found deeply embedded into the ground. Past Harvest, the tornado abruptly dissipated NE of town.
While rescue efforts were underway to look for people under the destroyed structures, few were aware that another violent tornado would strike the area. The path of the second tornado, which formed at 7:35 pm CDT was 50 miles in length, and the storm formed along the north bank Tennessee River less than a mile from the path of the earlier storm; with much of its path very closely paralleling its predecessor as it tore Limestone and Madison Counties. 22 people were killed by this second tornado. Tanner was the first community to be hit, and many structures that were left standing after the first tornado were destroyed in the second one. A man injured at Lawson’s Trailer Park in the first tornado was taken to a church in the area, which collapsed in the second tornado, killing him.
Homes swept away and scattered across fields near Hazel Green, AL as a result of the second Tanner tornado.
After devastating what was left of Tanner, the tornado continued across rural Limestone County and into Madison County, where the communities of Capshaw and Harvest were devastated once again. Numerous homes throughout Madison County were swept completely away, with extensive wind-rowing of debris noted once again. Past Harvest, the tornado swept away multiple additional homes in the Hazel Green area. The tornado continued northeastward through rural portions of Madison County before crossing into Tennessee, where major damage and 6 deaths occurred in Franklin and Lincoln Counties before the tornado dissipated in Coffee County. Two of the fatalities in Tennessee occurred when a church was destroyed during service. The death toll from the two tornadoes was over 50 and over 400 were injured. Most of the fatalities occurred in and around the Tanner area. Over 1,000 houses, 200 mobile homes and numerous other outbuildings, automobiles, power lines and trees were completely demolished or heavily damaged. The most recent official National Weather Service records show that both of the Tanner tornadoes were rated F5. However, the rating of the second Tanner tornado is still disputed by some scientists; analysis in one publication estimates F3-F4 damage along the entirety of the second storm’s path. This was the second state to have been hit by more than two F5s during the 1974 Super Outbreak. The next occurrence of two F5s hitting the same state on the same day happened in March 1990 in Kansas, and then in Mississippi on April 27, 2011. Meanwhile, the next F5 to hit the state was on April 4, 1977 near Birmingham.
Tanner was hit by yet another EF5 tornado on April 27, 2011.
While tornadoes were causing devastation in the northwestern most corner of the state, another supercell crossing the Mississippi-Alabama state line produced another violent tornado that touched down in Pickens County before heading northeast for nearly 2 hours towards the Jasper area causing major damage to its downtown as the F4 storm struck. Damage was also reported in Cullman from the storm before it lifted.
The Jasper tornado first touched near Aliceville, producing scattered damage as it tracked northwestward. The damage became more intense continuous as the tornado entered Tuscaloosa County. The tornado continued to strengthen south of Berry, and two people were killed near the Walker County line when a church was destroyed. The tornado tore directly through downtown Jasper at 6:57 PM, resulting in severe damage and at least 100 injuries. The Walker County courthouse sustained major damage, and a new fire station was completely leveled. The fireman on duty at the time took shelter underneath a nearby bridge, and survived without injury. The tornado crossed Lewis Smith Lake and moved across the south side of Cullman at 7:40 pm. Multiple homes and shopping centers were damaged or destroyed in the area, resulting in one death and 36 injuries. The tornado finally dissipated northeast of Cullman a short time later.
In total, the storm killed 3 and injured over 150 while 500 buildings were destroyed and nearly 400 others severely damaged. At the same time, a third supercell was crossing the state line near the track of the previous two.
Another violent tornado developed and devastated the town of Guin, and caused additional severe damage in Delmar. The Guin tornado was the longest-duration F5 tornado recorded in the outbreak, and considered to be one of the most violent ever recorded. It formed at around 8:50 pm CDT near the Mississippi-Alabama border before tearing through Guin and Delmar, and traveling over 100 miles to just west of Huntsville before lifting just after 10:30 pm CDT. According to pictures and historical accounts, many homes were completely swept away in Guin. Sections of neighborhoods were obliterated and scattered across fields, and one lot was swept clean of all debris. The destruction was so complete, that even some of the foundations were dislodged and swept away as well. According to NWS damage surveyor Bill Herman, “It was just like the ground had been swept clean. It was just as much of a total wipeout as you can have.” A very large industrial warehouse structure was completely obliterated and partially swept away, with steel girders twisted and broken. Many trees in the area were shredded and debarked, some of which had sheet metal and mobile home frames wrapped around them. The formation of this tornado was preceded by a number of reports of large hail and straight-line wind damage around Starkville, MS. The path of the Guin tornado was just a few dozen miles south of where the Tanner tornadoes struck about two hours earlier.
The tornado killed 23 in Guin in Marion County and another five in the community of Delmar in Winston County. Close to 300 people in total were injured, and Guin was left in ruins. More than five hundred homes were destroyed and the Bankhead National Forest lost so many trees that the path of the tornado was visible from satellite.
Damage at the intersection of Drake Ave and Memorial Parkway in Huntsville.
Huntsville was affected shortly before 11:00 pm EDT by a strong F3 tornado produced by the same thunderstorm that produced the Guin tornado. This tornado produced heavy damage in the south end of the city, eventually damaging or destroying nearly 1,000 structures.
The tornado touched down north of Hartselle and moved northeast toward Huntsville. It first hit the Redstone Arsenal, damaging or destroying numerous buildings at that location. But thanks to early warning from a MP picket line on Rideout Road, there were only three, relatively minor, injuries. One of the buildings destroyed was a publications center for the Nuclear Weapons Training School on the Arsenal. For months afterwards, portions of classified documents were being returned by farmers in Tennessee and Alabama. Many homes were badly damaged or destroyed as the tornado passed through residential areas of the city. Many businesses were also heavily damaged, and numerous trees and power lines were downed throughout the city. The Glenn’ll trailer park was completely destroyed by the tornado, and some sources list a fatality occurring at that location. The tornado then reached Monte Sano Mountain, which has an elevation of 1,640 feet. The National Weather Service office at Huntsville Jetport was briefly “closed and abandoned” due to the severe weather conditions. The tornado eventually dissipated near Jacobs Mountain.
WVUA Chief Meteorologist