The Greatest outbreak of Tornadoes in history. 148 in 24hrs!
On the 3rd of April 1974 there was an outbreak of Tornadoes in the US of truly incredible proportions. At around 7:00 am on Wednesday April 3, a cold front was pushing eastward from the Rockies across Texas. The front was moving at around 60 kph underneath a high altitude jet stream. In the Gulf States and around Tennessee was a low-level unstable air mass. By 8:42am satellites were showing convective activity from Lafayette, Louisiana, north-east to Clarksville, Tennessee, then curving back to Kentucky. By early afternoon satellites and radar were showing three squall lines developing covering Michigan, Illinios, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. Satellites were showing storm cloud reaching an incredible 60,000 feet, well above the Tropopause.
At 1:10pm a small Tornado touched down near Morris, Illinios. By about 2:00pm four more Tornadoes were reported in other states. What was to follow in the next 15 hours can only be described as sheer carnage. In the space of 16 hours and 10 minutes no less than 148 tornadoes cut a swath of destruction through 13 States and Canada. 315 people lost their lives, 5,484 people were injured and more than $500 million damage was caused. Famous Tornado researcher T. Theodore Fujita lead the research team to map and rate all of the Tornadoes. He found that six of the Tornadoes were of F-5 intensity (wind speeds between 435kph and 530kph. These babies will pull bitumen up off the roads) and 14 reached F-4 level (345kph to 433kph). All tracks were in a north easterly direction. Records for previous years had shown an average of less than one F-5 per year, let alone 6 in one day! The total length of the tracks was 4330km. The average track length was 31.16km as opposed to 1973's average of only 7.83km and 5.5km the year before. Six towns or cities were struck by not one but two Tornadoes. The tornado frenzy came to a climax at around 7:00pm when 15 tornadoes were on the ground at one time. The last Tornado was reported at 9:00am the next morning in North Carolina. The destruction caused by this outbreak is incredible considering most Americans are aware of Tornadoes and at least have cellars. That's not to say they were all prepared.
I would also like people to realize the human level that a day like this brings. The following is a quote from an e-mail sent to me by a person who lived through this dark day.
"We had no notice of any problem. This was way before the days of radar on television or even when an announcer would break into regularly programming to advise of weather-related problems. This was further complicated by the fact that when tornadoes hit this area, we cannot see them. We live in an area of trees and hills, which obscure long-range vision. Subsequently, we had absolutely no notice that we were even in any danger. The tornadoes hit us for two hours with full fury. My good friend was walking into his house when a tornado struck, instantly killing his wife and permanently disabling him. He was in a coma for weeks, during which time his wife was buried. A young mother and her son who lived 12 miles from me at the time saw a tornado coming and went to the south west corner of a basement, only to have the entire house pushed down onto them, killing them instantly. Three were killed 5 miles away, and two more 4 miles away. I do not mean to chastise you as chasers, but please try to put a human face on this horror. We live with tornadoes each spring, and we cannot think of them as glamorous or beautiful. If you can save anyone by your work, best of luck".
I pray that an outbreak like this never occurs in the populated areas of our country. As the damage to human life would be tenfold. Besides such an event would be very unlikely, almost impossible to happen here right? I'll bet my last dollar that's what they said in the states before the 3rd of April 1974.
For interest's sake the second largest outbreak of Tornadoes ever to occur was in Great Britain on the 23 of November 1981. It produced 105 Tornadoes in just six hours through North Wales and Central and Eastern England. All of these Tornadoes were squall line Tornadoes associated with a severe cold front.
Below is a map showing all the Tornadoes that occurred on this day.