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Remembering the 1974 super epidemic




HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) – The Super Outbreak April 3-4, 1974 was one for the record books. This outbreak is currently the second largest tornado outbreak in total tornado number, behind the 2011 super epidemic. However, in 1974, the number of severe tornadoes (rated EF-3 and above) far exceeded the number in 2011. Either way, both outbreaks were absolutely tragic with over 300 deaths during each outbreak.

  • 148 tornadoes
  • Across 13 different states
  • 319 deaths
  • Nearly 6,000 injured
  • Six of these tornadoes occurred in Virginia and 6 in West Virginia
  • Violent tornadoes: 23 F-4 tornadoes and 7 F-5 tornadoes touched down during this outbreak
  • Damage: approximately $ 4.5 billion
  • It was the first outbreak in recorded history with more than 100 tornadoes in a 24-hour period
  • Total length of the tornado path: approximately 2,600 miles

The outbreak cost $ 843 million and at one point 15 tornadoes were on the ground simultaneously. Hundreds of lives have been lost, 315 people lost and over 5,000 injured.

Notable tornadoes in this event include the Xenia, Ohio Tornado which was an F5 with maximum winds of 300 mph. As a result, 32 people lost their lives in this tornado and more than a thousand were injured.

Other notable tornadoes included the Brandenburg, Ky. Tornado which was also an F5 and killed 31 people. Three other F5-rated tornadoes hit Alabama, each killing more than 20 people.

Of the tornadoes that hit closer to home, there were 1 death in southwestern Virginia and 1 death in southeastern West Virginia. These two tornadoes were of force F3 (158-206 mph).

One of six tornadoes in the state struck Augusta County. This tornado landed near Swoope, crossed I-81 just north of Verona, and finally arose near Weyers Cave. No injuries or deaths occurred with this tornado when it landed at 6:30 am on April 4, 1974. The tornado was an F1 with winds estimated at 95 mph.

April 4, 1974
April 4, 1974(whsv)

In Mount Sidney, large barns and road signs were knocked down. A state soldier noticed the tornado and said it looked half a mile wide. This was unlikely due to the amount of damage. The soldier probably saw the cloud on the wall, the spinning cloud from which a tornado is falling. The terrain may have given the impression that this was the real tornado. Here is an excerpt from today’s Newsleader:

From the 1974 tornado in Augusta County - courtesy of the Newsleader
From the 1974 tornado in Augusta County – courtesy of the Newsleader(Newsleader)

The tornado overturned a tractor-trailer on I-81 near Weyers Cave. A chicken coop was torn between Laurel Hill and Verona, and many trees were cut down, blocking the roads.

The damage in Augusta County was widespread. The town of Staunton was not affected by the tornado.

As a result of this extreme epidemic, many lessons have been learned. Obviously, technology has improved in tornado detection. One of the most important impacts has been the improvement of communication and the warning system.

According to a National Weather Service report, tornado warnings were so frequent that they couldn’t be transmitted quickly enough. This led to the expansion of the weather radio network by NOAA. This is the one that is still used today and is still the best way to receive important warnings. Ultimately, along with the modernization of the National Weather Service’s technology, this also led to improved tornado warning times and accuracy.

Copyright 2021 WHSV. All rights reserved.

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