On Tuesday, April 2, 1974, a storm system with the potential to produce severe thunderstorms began brewing. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service expected the severe activity to strike somewhere in the middle or lower Mississippi Valley. But the tremendous magnitude and intensity of what was to actually occur could not be anticipated.
Thunderstorms began to intensify in the lower Mississippi Valley during the predawn hours of April 3, 1974, while many slept unaware of the impending terror. Dr. Greg Forbes, Severe Weather Expert at The Weather Channel, was a graduate student at the University of Chicago when the storms occurred.
"I think every meteorologist wants to witness the atmosphere in action," said Forbes.
"So, we all ran up to the roof and watched the rotating clouds. On one hand, we were hoping a tornado would touch down, but on the other hand we were hoping that it did not because of the destruction is could potentially cause."
As the day progressed, thunderstorms intensified dramatically, and more and more severe thunderstorm watches took effect.
The country's worst tornado outbreak began its deadly rampage just after 1 p.m. CDT in Morris, Illinois. Within the next hour additional twisters were spotted in Indiana, Tennessee, and Georgia.
Sayler Park (Cincinnati), Ohio
In less than 24 hours, 148 twisters had charged through 13 states stretching from the border of Ontario, Canada to Mississippi. The tornadoes left a path of destruction more than 2,500 miles long, leaving 315 dead and more than 5,000 injured.
Six of those tornadoes were among the strongest such storms ever recorded. A half-dozen reached an intensity of F5 on the Fujita scale, meaning estimated winds reached or exceeded 261 mph and perhaps were as high as 318 mph. In all, the outbreak included an astonishing 49 killer tornadoes.