Remembering April 3, 1974

Area residents recall
'Super Outbreak' as day of horror

Tornados were part of an unusual weather effect

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

April 2004 Indiana Edition Cover

April 2004
Indiana Edition Cover

(April 2004) – On April 3, 1974, Madison, Ind., area residents witnessed the largest tornado outbreak in Indiana history. In 39 of the state’s 92 counties at least 20 tornadoes resulted in 49 deaths and 768 injuries, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In Jefferson County, Ind., 10 died and many others were injured as a result of the storm.
Paul Blume, professor emeritus of economics and business, was teaching that day at Hanover College. He recalled a warning message that came across the school’s intercom during his afternoon class. A severe storm had been spotted heading toward the campus.
“Please go to the basement,” Blume remembered being instructed.
Blume and his students headed to the basement, where they waited for the storm to pass. “I don’t recall hearing anything. Maybe some wind,” said Blume.
He emerged just a few minutes later, however, to find a world turned topsy-turvy from the one he had just left behind. The building in which Blume and his students had been sheltered was one of the few intact structures. Most of the school’s buildings were either damaged or completely destroyed. Hanover College had sustained more than $10 million in damage in what would later be known as the “Super Outbreak of ’74.”

30-Year Anniversary

• “April 3: Thirty Years Later,” an all day event April 3, 2004, at Hanover College, with photo displays, panel discussions, campus tours, luncheon and reunion. (812) 866-7012.
• “Mad About Madison” cable Channel 22 show on the tornados to air daily in April at noon and 7 p.m.
• Read more about it at Scott Koerner’s website: www.april31974.com.

“I just immediately grabbed my camera and started taking pictures,” said Blume, who preserved on film the aftermath of one of the worst storms in recorded weather history.
Residents of Madison’s hilltop emerged to a similar scene. Through neighborhoods, schools, churches and businesses had been etched a path of devastation unlike any other before witnessed. Tornadoes – more than one – tore apart buildings and mowed down trees. Reportedly seen swirling through the air were huge pieces of debris, mobile homes, roofs of houses, and even dogs. According to some, a massive wall of water rose into the air when the tornado hit the Ohio River. The Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corp power plant’s switchyard was destroyed.

A week after tornados ripped
through Kentuckiana on
April 3, 1974, Madison photographer
Jim Pirtle hopped in his airplane and
took these aerial photos of the damage.

Anderson Elementary

Myrwin W. Anderson Elementary
School, Madison Hilltop

Clifty Inn Lodge

Clifty Inn Lodge, Madison Hilltop

IKEC Powerplant Switchyard

IKEC powerplant switchard

Don Sarver, owner of Madison Photo and Bridal Service, had been working in Columbus, Ind., on the day of the storm. He arrived in Madison within an hour of the outbreak. “On the way in we saw some effects of it, which wasn’t nothing like what we had here in town,” he recalled. Sarver took pictures of the damage the following day.
Downtown Madison, while spared from major devastation, had not survived completely unscathed. Telephone and power service was out, and according to Jim Pirtle of Pirtle Photography in Madison, nearly an inch of dirt and debris covered the sidewalks and streets.
Pirtle had been mowing at his farm five miles east of Milton, Ky., when the storm hit. “Like everybody else, I looked around, and I could see clouds in the distance but didn’t know what was going on,” he recalled.
Later in the day, he headed to downtown Madison to check on his shop, which had sustained little damage. Pirtle’s airplane, however, parked at the airport in Madison, had a broken windshield and dents from huge hailstones that had dropped from the sky. A week later from his repaired airplane Pirtle captured many striking aerial photos of the damage.
Indiana was not the only state affected by the super outbreak. In terms of total number, path length, and total damage, the massive outbreak was more extensive than any other in recorded history, according to the NOAA. Statistics compiled by Dr. T. Theodore Fujita, creator of the Fujita scale used to measure tornado damage, revealed that on April 3-4, 148 tornadoes resulted in 330 deaths in 13 states. Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio were the hardest hit.
Of more than 190 nations in the world, the United States witnesses roughly three fourths of all tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, which records monthly and yearly tornado statistics. In an average year, about 1,000 tornadoes are reported across the United States, resulting in 80 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries.

Tornado outbreak

Photo from www.april31974.com

This map shows the path of
tornados that struck April 3,1974,
a phenomenon since known as the
"Super Outbreak of 1974"

Although tornadoes can strike at any time of the year, statistics reveal that the number of twisters typically spikes during the months of April through July. Last May, a record high 516 tornadoes were confirmed in the United States, more than twice that of the same month in the previous two years and by far the highest number of tornadoes occurring in a single month since modern record keeping began in 1950. From 2001-2003, January was the least likely month for tornadoes, according to SPC records.
Despite great strides in technology, which have produced such instruments as Doppler radar, meteorologists still are unable to predict very far in advance when and where a tornado might strike. Doppler radar can detect tornado-producing thunderstorms called supercells, but it cannot detect the presence of a tornado unless the tornado is within 20-30 miles of the radar, according to Dr. David Arnold, associate professor of geography at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.


Dr. Theodore Fujita

The late Dr. Theodore Fujita

F-Scale Number: Intensity Phrase; Wind Speed; Type of Damage Done:
F0: Gale tornado; 40-72 mph; Some damage to chimneys; breaks branches off trees; pushes over shallow-rooted trees; damages sign boards.
F1: Moderate tornado; 73-112 mph; The lower limit is the beginning of hurricane wind speed; peels surface off roofs; mobile homes pushed off foundations or overturned; moving autos pushed off the roads; attached garages may be destroyed.
F2: Significant tornado; 113-157 mph; Considerable damage. Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars pushed over; large trees snapped or uprooted; light object missiles generated.
F3: Severe tornado; 158-206 mph; Roof and some walls torn off well constructed houses; trains overturned; most trees in forest uprooted.
F4: Devastating tornado ; 207-260 mph; Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown off some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.
F5: Incredible tornado; 261-318 mph; Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried considerable distances to disintegrate; automobile sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 meters; trees debarked; steel re-inforced concrete structures badly damaged.
F6: Inconceivable tornado; 319-379 mph; These winds are very unlikely. The small area of damage they might produce would probably not be recognizable along with the mess produced by F4 and F5 wind that would surround the F6 winds. Missiles, such as cars and refrigerators would do serious secondary damage that could not be directly identified as F6 damage. If this level is ever achieved, evidence for it might only be found in some manner of ground swirl pattern, for it may never be identifiable through engineering studies.
Note: Dr.T. Theodore Fujita, a University of Chicago meteorologist known as “Mr. Tornado,” created the Fujita damage scale in 1971 to measure the intensity of winds, including that of a tornado. Tornado wind speeds are still largely unknown, however, and the wind speeds on the F-scale have never been scientifically tested and proven. Even with its flaws, the F-scale is the only widely used tornado rating method and will probably remain so until ground-level winds can be measured in most tornadoes. Dr. Fujita was brought to the United States in the early 1950s by Horace Byers of the University of Chicago to study storms and tornados. The Super Outbreak of 1974, with its 148 tornados, was the pinnacle of his analysis of a tornado outbreak. Dr. Fujita died in 1998 at age 78.

Arnold leads the university’s storm chase team, comprised of meteorology students who have gone through hours of training and course work related to the field identification of severe thunderstorms. Under Arnold’s guidance, these students charge into action whenever severe weather threatens, following the paths of dangerous storms in order to provide information to the National Weather Service and learn more about these destructive forces of nature.
“One of the things the students learn is how to determine which thunderstorms are most likely to produce tornadoes just by visual appearance,” Arnold said.
Only about 30 percent of the time do tornadoes develop from supercell thunderstorms, according to Arnold. The field observation of storm chasers helps bridge the gap between weather that can be predicted with technology and weather that occurs spontaneously.
“In some cases by having storm spotters in the field you’re adding 10 minutes of time for the public to be able to respond to a warning, and that can make all the difference in the world,” Arnold said.
Although 30 years have passed, and damage sustained from the ’74 tornados is no longer physically evident, the day is far from being forgotten by those who witnessed firsthand the devastation. In commemoration of the super outbreak, Hanover College on Saturday, April 3, plans a day-long program: “April 3: Thirty Years Later” on April 3, 2004.
Current and retired faculty, alumni, staff and community members will participate in panel discussions, “tornado memories” will be recorded by the colleges broadcast students, and a slide show featuring pictures taken by Blume will be presented.
Campus tours will be offered throughout the day. For more information call 800-213-2179, ext. 7012, or visit: www.hanover.edu/alumni/april3.



Also in commemoration of the tornado outbreak will be shown on local access cable Channel 22 a special edition of “Mad About Madison,” featuring interviews of nearly a dozen area residents who witnessed events of the day. The show will be featured at noon and 7 p.m. every day of the month.
Individuals who want to learn more about the superoutbreak can find a wealth of information online. The website www.april31974.com was created by Madison resident Scott Koerner to commemorate and provide information about the super outbreak. Since it was launched in January 2002, thousands have visited the site, which contains statistical data, personal testimonies, pictures, video and radio footage, tornado myths and facts, general information and related links.
Many post stories of their personal experiences on the site.
“Some people say it’s their first memory,” said Koerner, who welcomes comments. Koerner said his goal is to make the site as comprehensive as possible. “We’re looking for more pictures and stories to add,” he said.

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