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April 3-4th. 1974 is a day I will always remember. I was a senior in high school and fascinated by tornadoes. I would read anything I could get my hands on related to the subject. One of the things that was difficult to find were pictures, especially videos of tornadoes. However, that all changed for me following this incredible outbreak.

In 1974 , video cameras were becoming popular at a reasonable price. Many Americans had them and they were light and simple to use. In the “Super Outbreak” 358 tornadoes dropped from the sky and many were documented by multiple people with video recorders. I clearly remember the compelling videos and the horrific destruction.


Not only was it a turning point for me and my career in meteorology, it was the catalyst for new techniques in tornado detection and warning systems. The death and damage tolls were so high that the National Weather Service made radical changes that included the installation of next generation radars which were the forerunners of the Dopplers we utilize today. Warning systems were improved and sirens which had limited use in 1974, were installed in communities throughout tornado alley.

I came across a nice article by Kathryn Prociv a meteorologist and contributor for the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang capsulizing the event. Lot of interesting facts and insights and her work is appreciated.

The “Super Outbreak of April 3-4, 1974” occurred across portions of the Midwest, Lower Mississippi Valley, and Southeast. In what was the worst tornado outbreak of the 20th century, there were 148 tornadoes over the course of just 18 hours, over half of which were classified as significant/strong at F2 strength or higher.

Many comparisons have been made between this outbreak and the April 25-28, 2011 outbreak which featured 358 tornadoes. Although the more recent outbreak featured many more tornadoes, they occurred over a longer time period in an age of better tornado detection, and the worst was confined to a smaller area compared to April 3-4, 1974.

Perhaps the most staggering fact from the 1974 outbreak was the amount of F4 and F5 tornadoes; an incredible 30 (23 F4s and 7 F5s). The 1974 outbreak featured 30 violent tornadoes in less than one daywhen the national average is only about 7 per year.