1974’s Tornadoes: Revisit the “Super Outbreak” Online

"Super Outbreak" of tornadoes, April 3rd and 4th, 1974, as mapped by Dr. Theodore Fujita. (Image Credit: srh.noaa.gov)

"Super Outbreak" of tornadoes, April 3rd and 4th, 1974, as mapped by Dr. Theodore Fujita. (Image Credit: srh.noaa.gov)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Alabama was among  several states hit hard in the “Super Outbreak” of tornadoes on April 3 and 4, 1974.

Before the tornado outbreak on April 27, 2011, 1974’s devastation was considered one of the darkest – perhaps the worst – moment in Alabama’s weather history.

According to the National Weather Service, during the late afternoon and evening hours of April 3rd, 1974, at least eight tornadoes – including four extremely intense and long-lived storms – blasted through Alabama.

Sixteen counties in the northern part of the state were hit the hardest. More than 80 people were killed, 949 were injured and damages were more than $50 million.

You can revisit that moment with a quick search of the National Weather Service archives. Searching for “1974 Super Outbreak” returns links to multiple summaries of the event as well as maps, charts and predictions.

A summary from the NWS in Birmingham, AL outlines the impact of the “Super Outbreak” and also offers damage photos, digitized newspaper clippings and statistics charts.

You’ll also find links to private and third-party content, like this YouTube video of the damage aftermath in Huntsville.

This webpage also shows the damage in Huntsville at the intersection of South Memorial Parkway and Drake Ave. from an F3 twister.

Do you remember the 1974 “Super Outbreak” in Alabama? Share your memories below.

In all, between April 3-4, 1974, more than 148 tornadoes ripped across 13 states, including Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.

More than 300 people died and another 5,000 were injured.

Here’s video you may not have seen of tornado damage in Dayton, Ohio.

15 comments

  • elton4562

    I remember it very well. That was the first and only day when I actually felt fear and dread due to the possibility of tornadoes. While we were not hit in Russellville, they caused devastation south of us, the most impressive to me being the town of Guin. A horrible day! Elton

  • rocketgirl

    I was 10 years old in 1974 and lived on Monte Sano. However even today at 50 years old I can still remember being let out of school early that afternoon and yes, back in the :”old days” we walked home. In fact, HD Bagley lived at the end of our street and I can recall that he was on the air all day/night during the outbreak. That night my parents had all 3 of their children and 2 pets huddled into a shower with quilts, pillows and the like. I believe the tornado that hit S. Pkwy and Drake went over us and down into the Dug Hill area. The same tornado ravaged the neighborhood of Thornton Acres where my grandparents lived. Once we were safe, my Dad left our home after midnight to check on my his parents. I can recall him telling us about driving through downed power lines and fighting downed trees. He was a good ole’ country boy and had his trusty chainsaw with him too and stayed out all night helping others in that area get to families or get them out. We had limbs and leaves in our yard and some of the homes that were on bluff lots of Monte Sano and faced Hidden Valley (Dug Hill area) had damage. I still live in Huntsville and have survived the 1989 tornado (it literally passed right over me on Redstone Arsenal that day) and now the 2011 tornadoes.

  • Greg Rutherford

    I remember,,, I could never forget,,,, even if I wanted too.We did everything right, (for the time period). We had a radio,,, and heard about each tornado that was headed our direction,,,, 10 minutes after we watched it pass over. I did not say this to ridicule the weathermen/women of that time, but to point out how far they have come !!! I was 6 at the time, living in Cullman County,,,, but I still remember us hunkered in that shelter and my uncle standing on the steps,, watching for the next one,,,

  • Paula Gipson

    My mother was a nurse and worked in labor and delivery at Huntsville hospital. She had to help in the ER Removing glass from the injured. I don’t remember when she was allowed to come home. We lived in Gurley and could not get home because of power lines across Highway 72 in Ryland Alabama.

  • Harold Fanning

    My wife and I lived in Ryland, just over Chapman Mountain. Two tornados came down the mountain side by side from the east, cutting two paths of destruction. The devestation literally changed the landscape. Everyone that survived were walking in shock, not knowing exactly what to do. For the first time in our lives, we realized that the only thing we had left were the cloths we had on! It was truly a life-changing event that is still as vivid in our memories today as it was then.

  • shirley ridiner

    I remember it like it was yesterday I was only 5 yrs my sis is 7 yrs older than me she was standing on porch and if she wasn’t hanging on to rails an mama an daddy hadn’t got her inside she wouldn’t be here today it went right over our house on beaty road our parents stuck us in between matress and boxspring so we would be covered it shook our house so bad it knocked our birdcage over I was scared to death but thought I would share.

  • Vicky Murphree Yarbrough

    I was 9 and that experience taught me to take bad weather seriously. I took shelter in a basement with about 15 family members and we watched as wind bent the tips of the trees over in a pine thicket, the tips almost touching the ground. The radio was announcing Tornado warnings non stop county after county all night. A near by egg farm was destroyed and eggs were found unbroken miles away.

  • Rodney Bankston

    I was at Air Force basic military training at Lackland AFB, TX. My wife and four year old daughter were staying at her parents’ house in Holiday Homes in Huntsville and my parents and other family members also lived in Huntsville, I was able to reach my wife by phone the next day for about 30 seconds and could not contact them for several days. I was a nervous wreck because of lack of information. They were without power for several days. Some how after a few days, Krystal was able to started cooking hamburgers. The first hot food they had. Some family acquaintances lost family to the tornadoes. Very trying time for our family though no deaths or injuries from the storms.

  • MeLisa

    I was 11 years old and I remember being in our basement along with a lot of our neighbors. The children were lying on the floor with mattresses over us and the women were lying on top of the mattresses. We could certainly hear the “freight train”. The men were standing on the front porch and when they saw the tornado they were racing each other to get down the stairs. We lost a few shingles off the house but on the other side of Drake Ave. (the house behind us was on Drake) the houses were destroyed. We had to finish the school year at Ridgecrest Elementary with McDonnell Elementary going to our school until noon and we went in at 12:30. McDonnell was re-built during the summer of that year.

  • Donna Ghost Bear (@donnaghostbear)

    I was a junior in high school. We actually had classes outside that afternoon. That night I was huddling with my family in the hallway of our house listening to the storms. We were fortunate that we had only minor damage, some broken windows. We did find debris in our yard that we don’t know where it came from or how far it had been blown. I never imagined that 37 years later there would be an even worse outbreak.

  • Letha Montgomery Hardyman

    I was 13 at the time and we were among the few houses that had a basement. We had so many people in there that we ran out of places to sit.
    I was going steady at the time with a boy in my class and he and his entire family were killed. I will never forget the feeling even at 13 when I found out they had been killed.
    I remember the next several days standing on the road with a bucket taking up money to help folks that had been affected and helping with the clean up.
    I remember that evening as I was getting ready to go to Church with my sister’s family my mother came over and asked us not to go. she said she just felt like it was a bad idea and pointed out hoe the animals were acting. We didn’t go and not long after we were standing in the front yard watching the tornado with 3 tails going across the sky.
    I was one of the scariest times in my life and never thought I would be so scared until 2011 when the tornado hit Mt. Hope knowing my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren were in the path.

  • Ann

    This is a night that I will never forget. My four children my husband and my mother spent the night in her basement. Every time we thought things were going to calm down there was the report of another tornado heading our way.
    My children were all in their early teen and it was a long night for all of us. Somewhere around 4 am I discovered that they were acting like they were going to sit the germansheperds tail on fire. That was all that was funny all night. Of course the dog was not going to stand still for such actions.
    Just after daylight ny husband and I were walking home which was just a few yards away and discovered that about 1/4 of our roof was laying in the front yard.
    We got a few volunteers and got a tarp on before we had to leave the next morning for a band trip to Bama university for a band contest. None of us were ready to go for we had to go without showers and with dirty clothes. There was also storm damage down there. but nothing like we had left here in Huntsville.
    We were all tired and worried about what kind of showing the band would make and they surprised us with an A one rating. This was Buckhorn band.

  • Jennie Staub

    I remember it very well. I was 8 years old and we lived in Muscle Shoals. I remember my parents getting me and my younger sister out of bed and bringing us in to sleep on the couch in the den so we would all be together. I slept fitfully and woke at one point to see H.D. Bagley telling people to take shelter then they went live to a crew out in the field and showed emergency personnel removing a person from a ditch. They were covered in mud so that you couldn’t even tell if it was a man or woman, if they were dead or alive. We didn’t get any damage in our area but that night and the images I witnessed on that TV screen have stayed with me ever since. My husband and I had just moved back to north Alabama when the April 27th storms hit. I am one of those “lucky” individuals to experience the two worst weather days in the history of north Alabama.

  • Dianne Cutten

    My parents lived in the Piedmont area on Quincy Drive (near the old Parkway City) and had just flown back into Huntsville the day before. They had visited us at our duty station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. My dad stood in his garage watching the clouds(he was an avid cloud watcher) as it came in. My mom of course was in the closet and yelling to him to “get in the house”!! He told me later he could hear the devistation as it hit Parkway City area. It luckily spared his street. We were in a panic as we had heard of the tornado over the little news we got in Gitmo. It was days before we knew my parents were okay because our only communication in those days was by ham radio. We did get through finally after a couple of really hard days not knowing, but found they were okay. We had no live tv broadcasts either and could only imagine the devistation we heard about.

  • Rachel Hitt

    I was a Jr at Brilliant High School and I remember that day so very well. The air was very hot, muggy, sticky, and it felt like it had electricity to it. It had a very erie feeling. I remember it being hard to breathe as my class was on the track field for P.E. It was a sort of overcast dreary day. After school was out and I got home I started working on a dress I was sewing. My sister came by after work to wait and see what the weather was going to do. She lived in a trailor at that time and her hubby had to be in Guin that night working at 3M. She started to go home thinking it was not going to do anything. I did not want her to go and ask her to help me sew in the sleeves to the dress. after a little while it began to get very erie and the air actually did have a magnetic feel. The TV started doing weird stuff like losing signals. this was between 8:30 and 9 pm. We decided to go ahead a get to the storm shelter and get my 90 yr old grandmother there just in case. Not long after that everything moved at a fast pace. My other sister and her husband were lying in bed, she was 6 months pregnant. They heard it coming and they hit the ground running. It passed right over my house. We all were ok my home was ok, but my sisters trailor was gone.. Had I not delayed her she would have been killed. Her husband was in Guin right in its path. the twister missed his work. He was national guard so he got called out for recusce. He figured his home had been hit but he had no way of knowing if my sister was at the trailor or at our house. He was crazy with worry. Today I am thankful for updated weather techonology and better communication devices. The 2011 Tuscaloosa Tornado missed my old apt. complex when I lived there in 1975 just by a city block. I take this time of year very seriously. I live in Texas now but these storms happen anywhere.

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