Between April 3rd and 4th 1974, a strong cold front pushed through the region producing severe storms across not only our area but much of the United States. This in turn led to one of the worst tornado outbreaks in history at the time.

In this location, we are in a strong south wind surge in the tropical-like air mass from the Gulf of Mexico. The morning of April 3rd set the stage for the impactful day as a very warm and moist air mass was in place ahead of the cold front.

Dew point values surged well into the upper 60s to around 70 degrees this combined with the warm air in place created plenty of instability for storms to tap into. Those storms were able to thrive in this environment allowing them to become severe.

News 19’s Greg Screws recounts 1974 Tornado Outbreak

Storms began to develop during the morning hours of April 3rd and would continue into the morning hours of April 4th. The first tornado touched down in Indiana around 9:30 in the morning with the peak time for tornadoes occurring during the peak daytime heating hours; afternoon.

A total of 148 tornadoes touched down across 13 states, leading to 335 fatalities and over 6 thousand injuries. Of those nearly 150 tornadoes, 10 of those touched down here in the Tennessee Valley.

Tennessee Valley Impacts:

Tracks of tornadoes courtesy of National Weather Service

Of the 10 tornadoes that touched down during this event, five were extremely intense and long-lived F4 and F5 tornadoes. Of the five violent tornadoes that day three had an F5 rating, meaning winds ranging from 261 to 318 mph.

Above is a look at the estimated tracks of these tornadoes across the Tennessee Valley. Limestone and Madison counties experienced the worst damage from the F5 tornadoes that day.

Some of the communities hit the hardest were Athens, Tanner, Harvest, Toney, Madison, and Hazel Green. It was these locations that felt the force of an F5 tornado. Many structures were destroyed, and some homes were whipped from their foundations.

Above is a look at some of the images of damage left behind by these tornadoes. One photo that seems to stick out the most is a bathtub that had been punctured into the ground due to the destructive winds associated with the tornado.

To read more on this event from the National Weather Service click here.