April 3, 1974
'Super Outbreak' as day of horror
were part of an unusual weather effect
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 states 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 schools 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 dont 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 schools 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
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 Koerners website:
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 Madisons 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 plants switchyard was destroyed.
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.
W. Anderson Elementary
School, Madison Hilltop
Inn Lodge, Madison Hilltop
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 wasnt nothing like what we had here
in town, he recalled. Sarver took pictures of the damage the following
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 didnt know what was going on,
Later in the day, he headed to downtown Madison to check on his shop,
which had sustained little damage. Pirtles 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
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.
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.
THE FUJITA SCALE
Intensity Phrase; Wind Speed; Type of Damage Done:
late Dr. Theodore Fujita
F0: Gale tornado; 40-72 mph; Some damage to chimneys; breaks
branches off trees; pushes over shallow-rooted trees; damages sign
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
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 universitys 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 Arnolds 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,
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 youre
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
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,
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 its their first memory, said Koerner,
who welcomes comments. Koerner said his goal is to make the site as
comprehensive as possible. Were looking for more pictures
and stories to add, he said.
Back to April 2004 Articles.