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The “Super Tornado Outbreak” of 1974

Alexandra Pope, staff writer

April 3, 2011 — Between April 3rd and 4th, 1974, 148 tornadoes touched down in 13 states -- the biggest 24-hour tornado outbreak in history. 330 people died and thousands were injured in the “Super Outbreak.”

The tornado that decimated Xenia, Ohio was one of the strongest ever recorded
The tornado that decimated Xenia, Ohio was one of the strongest ever recorded

The outbreak was unprecedented both in terms of the strength and number of tornadoes that touched down and the size of the affected region.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the tornados that touched down in Xenia, Ohio, Brandenburg, Kentucky and Guin, Alabama were among the strongest ever recorded.

One twister measured five miles across and at one point, 15 tornadoes were on the ground at the same time.

One woman, who was a teenager at the time, recalled how the town of Huntsville, Alabama was virtually “wiped off the map” by an F3 tornado on the night of April 3rd.

“I was amazed at the damage done -- trees ... pulled out of the ground by the roots, a big boat picked up and laid on its side. My whole world changed that day and I will never, ever forget it,” she wrote on an Internet message board dedicated to the outbreak.

Amateur photos and video captured the terror of the outbreak
Amateur photos and video captured the terror of the outbreak

Windsor's tornado

The disaster even affected Canada. A tornado that touched down in Michigan crossed into Windsor, Ontario and collapsed the Windsor Curling Club, killing nine people inside.

Windsor resident Tony Annyschyn, who was 12 at the time, remembers the intense thunderstorms that preceded the tornado.

“(There was) heavy rain, large hail, lots of thunder and lightning ... but what stood out was the wind. It had a very eerie howl to it,” he said.

Nancy Lee Ould lived near the curling club and heard the tornado's approach.

“The tornado lifted up after hitting the curling club and roared up over my house toward the Detroit River,” she said. “Then it was silent, yet I knew before the fire and ambulance sirens started that a tornado had hit.”

The Windsor tornado remains one of the deadliest in Canadian history.

An important legacy

The Super Outbreak left an important legacy.

Research conducted in the aftermath of the outbreak gave scientists a much better understanding of the formation and behaviour of severe storms, and the anniversary of the deadly event serves as a reminder of the importance of tornado awareness and preparedness.

In the nearly 40 years since the outbreak, weather imaging has improved dramatically and forecasters have doubled their warning lead time ahead of severe weather events, but meteorologists say it's up to the public to know how to respond in order to stay safe.

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