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50th Anniversary of the April 3-4, 1974 Super Outbreak

Austin Dawg

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I was 14. My friends and I had been out, riding our dirt bikes all morning and early afternoon and saw a big storm approaching so we all headed home that storm produced the biggest hail I've still ever seen in my lifetime. I swear to God it was the size of softballs, there weren't very many of them, but they didn't have to be to make some damage. We had several storms come through Smithville that evening and they were very rough but they were not tornadic as far as I know.

We heard about the tornado that hit Guin and some horror stories the next couple of days you wouldn't believe. it was one moment when I realized firsthand just what a severe weather outbreak would feel like. The strange thing is, I have a shot of the Smithville tornado that was actually taken not very far from where I lived at the time that was taken in April 2011 just before the storm entered the south side of town where I lived, I don't know why but this photo reminds me of that evening when I watched storm after storm roll into the south side of town with hanging wall clouds. None of them actually had a tornado even though several of those storms were warned.

18193845_10211610190224706_9144571420599091778_n.jpeg

I guess it just triggers my memories of storms coming into town when I was younger.
 

Mike S

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Who can ever forget this classic documentary about the Superoutbreak?



I am actually watching this right now. I watch it every 2-3 years.

I recommend watching the entire video, but this takes you directly to the part about Huntsville.
 

Mike S

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Some stats from NWS HUN https://www.weather.gov/hun/track_stat_1974_aniv

One thing I notice is the official tornado tracks through Limestone County near Tanner do not back up the talk about two tornadoes crossing the same point that day. I have always heard about one spot near Tanner getting hit twice, but I'm not seeing it here.
 
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MichelleH

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Some stats from NWS HUN https://www.weather.gov/hun/track_stat_1974_aniv

One thing I notice is the official tornado tracks through Limestone County near Tanner do not back up the talk about two tornadoes crossing the same point that day. I have always heard about one spot near Tanner getting hit twice, but I'm not seeing it here.

There's a book called "F5" that's about the N AL tornadoes that night, including the 2 Tanner tornadoes.
 

Mike S

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There's a book called "F5" that's about the N AL tornadoes that night, including the 2 Tanner tornadoes.
That may be the one I came across earlier today on Amazon. Written in 2007. I might get that book.

One thing I find misleading about the video above is the report of zero deaths in Huntsville. True, no one inside the city limits died, but there were multiple fatalities in Madison and Limestone counties. The advanced warnings did indeed help(it got my family out of the house!), but there was major loss of life in our area that day and night.
 

Mike S

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That was an active Fall/Spring severe season in North Alabama. The Huntsville airport, known as The Jetplex at the time, took a direct hit in November 1973 from an F3 tornado that damaged a lot of airport property, and on April 1, 1974, just days before the Super Outbreak, the Sherwood Park area of Huntsville took a direct night time hit from another F3, killing one.
 

Mike S

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I want to keep the discussion within this thread since it is the 50th anniversary, but I want to point everyone to this excellent write up from the late Perry W from a few years back. The guy was a walking encyclopedia of tornado history knowledge.

 

Mike S

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The house pictured on the right in this link was our family friend's house. They sheltered in a little storage area under those steps accessed inside the house. It likely saved their lives.



This is 1,000 feet southwest of McDonnell Elementary School that I mentioned earlier that was demolished by the tornado.
 
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MichelleH

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I want to keep the discussion within this thread since it is the 50th anniversary, but I want to point everyone to this excellent write up from the late Perry W from a few years back. The guy was a walking encyclopedia of tornado history knowledge.


I miss him so much. I consider myself a tornado historian but I will never be able to compare to the tornado and hurricane history he knew.
 

doug88R

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If I'm not mistaken, the "blanket warning" issued during the '74 Super Outbreak occurred in Alabama during the assault of Tanner 1+2/Guin, and the others.

The one in Indiana was issued by the South Bend Weather Bureau office during the Palm Sunday Outbreak of 1965:



It's possible there was one in Indiana during the '74 event as well, and I just didn't know about it. In all those cases, given the poor radar resolution of the time and the sheer number of reports, it was the best they could do.

James Spann essentially issued a "blanket warning" for the entire Tuscaloosa-Birmingham television market on April 27, 2011 when he told his viewers there would be so many tornadoes it's possible he and Jason Simpson wouldn't be able to call them out in time, so treat any storm that approaches as capable of producing a tornado and take cover. Indeed, there did end up being a few that they only mentioned briefly or didn't notice the radar signature until after the fact, such as the Fayette County EF3.
Actually, there was a blanket Warning on April 3, 1974 here in Indiana as well. Not sure of when it was issued though. I can say from my memory the situation got very busy and scary around the 5:00 pm hour (+/- 15 minutes) here north of Indianapolis and as I have read the northern part of the state. The supercell that produced a three tornado family beginning with the Swayzee tornado (#21) passed over my town about that time from the southwest. The lightning was so bad we could barely watch any VHF TV stations out of Indianapolis at this point and hail was the size of tennis balls. I was five at the time. Things slowly started to slow down after the earth trimmer that occurred shortly after 6:00 pm. (Times are for Indiana Eastern Time.)
 

Hoover Lee

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I was 15 at the time of the 1974 outbreak. I have relatives that live in Winfield (about 15 miles from Guin). I remember driving through Guin about 4 weeks later and the thing that stood out to me was any tree left standing was stripped of all bark. It was just total devastation.
 

andyhb

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It's getting easier to see why the Guin tornado has the reputation it does (hyperbole notwithstanding) with some of the new damage photos in this article. The center of the path is nearly a complete wipeout.
 

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Thanks JP! In 2004 I attended an event in Athens, Alabama for the 30th anniversary and even got to hear the late H.D. Bagley speak about that night. (There were also some other TalkWeather members there too from then, but I was still a relatively newish member and only recognized a few usernames when they introduced themselves.) That's why I'm surprised I haven't seen anything about an event for the 50th.
I actually got homework help from H D Bagley when I was a junior in high school. I drove up to the 19 studios and asked the receptionist if I could ask him some questions about weather for school homework. He came out and invited me into his office and helped me out. Super nice man and was happy to help out.
 

CSimonds

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Actually, there was a blanket Warning on April 3, 1974 here in Indiana as well. Not sure of when it was issued though. I can say from my memory the situation got very busy and scary around the 5:00 pm hour (+/- 15 minutes) here north of Indianapolis and as I have read the northern part of the state. The supercell that produced a three tornado family beginning with the Swayzee tornado (#21) passed over my town about that time from the southwest. The lightning was so bad we could barely watch any VHF TV stations out of Indianapolis at this point and hail was the size of tennis balls. I was five at the time. Things slowly started to slow down after the earth trimmer that occurred shortly after 6:00 pm. (Times are for Indiana Eastern Time.)
And the sky was an intense green. Totally unforgettable. Back then. We didn’t have the sirens in south Huntsville. The police drove through the neighborhood with a loud speaker telling everyone to take cover.
 
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Can anyone think of another situation in which a settlement, town, or city got impacted by multiple (E)F5s on the same day? As far as I know only Tanner holds the distinction. To me this is one of the most astonishing statistics in relation to the 1974 Super Outbreak.
 
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