Alabama was one of several states devastated by the "Super
Outbreak," as April 3rd and 4th, 1974, has become known. This date
certainly represents one of the darkest times in Alabama weather
history. During the late afternoon and evening hours of April 3,
1974, at least eight tornadoes, including four extremely intense
and long-lived storms, brought death and extreme storm
destruction to Alabama. Eighty-six persons were killed, 949 were
injured, and damages exceeded $50 million. Sixteen counties in
the northern part of the state were hit the hardest.
Severe weather began about 4:30 pm CDT, when a brief tornado
touchdown caused damage, but no casualties, in the Concord area 8
miles west of Birmingham. Less than an hour later, another
tornado strike caused tree and power line damage 8 miles west of
Jacksonville (Calhoun County). About 6:30 pm CDT a third tornado
hit Cherokee County, injuring 20 persons, while even more
powerful storms were spawning farther to the northwest.
Alabama's major tornado activity began when a tornado
touched ground near Newburg (Franklin County) at 6:30 pm CDT and
plowed viciously northeastward. This tornado moved on the ground
continuously for 85 miles in Alabama before it entered Tennessee.
Reports at the time described it as "big and powerful and taking
everything in its path." Severely damaged were rural areas of
northern Lawrence County, the communities of Tanner, in Limestone
County, and Harvest and Hazel Green, in Madison County. This
tornado entered Limestone County about 7:05 pm CDT. At 7:35 pm
CDT, in nearly the exact point of entry near the Tennessee River,
a second major tornado began and followed the first tornado. Its
20-mile-long path varied from that of its predecessor by only a
block to less than 2 miles. This storm struck hard and hindered
rescue units moving into the area. Many communities were hit
twice in 30 minutes. Well over half of Alabama's storm deaths
and many of the injuries were caused by these two tornadoes,
which killed 55, injured 408, and caused destruction or heavy
damage to over 1,100 buildings, more than 200 mobile homes, and
numerous motor vehicles.
Even as these storms were occurring, other tornadoes were
taking place farther south. At 7:00 pm CDT, a tornado touched
down 5 miles north of Aliceville (Pickens County) and moved
almost continuously on the ground for nearly an hour before
hitting Jasper (Walker County) at 7:58 pm CDT. It moved
northeastward and heavily damaged a four-block area in southeast
Cullman about 8:40 pm. This storm finally lifted over northeast
Cullman County, leaving 3 dead and 178 injured.
As this tornado was dissipating, the final storms of the
outbreak began their havoc. Earlier, strong wind and large hail
had hit Columbus, Mississippi, and a funnel cloud was sighted at
Starkville, MS. At 8:50 pm CDT a very powerful tornado touched
down 6 miles north of Vernon (Lamar County) and produced a path
of destruction toward the northeast. It moved through Guin
(Marion County) about 9:04 pm CDT, killing 23 people and injuring
250 in the area. In Winston County, it left Delmar with 5 dead
and heavy damage. In the Bankhead National Forest, it bit into
deep gorges and exposed ridges and destroyed much timber.
Shortly after this the tornado lifted, but another tornado moved
northeast to strike south Huntsville at 10:50 pm CDT. There was
severe damage at the Redstone Arsenal and in south Huntsville.
Staff members at the Weather Service Office in Huntsville were
forced to temporarily abandon their hectic duties. Shortly after
11:00 pm CDT, this final storm of the outbreak in Alabama moved
across Monte Sano (elevation 1,640 feet) just east of Huntsville,
and broke up over western Jackson County. The final two
tornadoes killed 28, injured 332, and, destroyed or heavily
damaged over 850 buildings, 250 mobile homes, and 60 small
Within recent weather history, April 3rd and 4th, 1974, is
one of the worst days ever seen. This particular day is eclipsed
in Alabama only by the tornado outbreak of March 21, 1932, when
over 270 people died in a series of tornadoes.
As we commemorate the 30th anniversary of April, 1974,
Alabamians only have to look back at
April 8, 1998,
November 24th, 2001,
and November 10th, 2002,
to be reminded of the power and fury that nature can unleash. It's
important that people continue to improve their severe weather
awareness and preparedness in order to reduce the toll extracted
by these devastating storms.
Damage in Limestone County.
Damage in Limestone County.
Satellite image of tornado track.
Nashville, Tennessee Sounding
Montgomery, Alabama Sounding
Jackson, Mississippi Sounding