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The April 3rd and 4th 1974 Tornado Outbreak in Alabama

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 businesses.

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.

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Damage in Limestone County.

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Damage in Limestone County.

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Satellite image of tornado track.

Click here for sounding at Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee Sounding

Click here for a sounding at Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery, Alabama Sounding

Click here for a sounding at Jackson, Mississippi
Jackson, Mississippi Sounding

Effects of the April 3rd and 4th Tornadoes
Dead3358617249773 741 5021
Hospitalized1,18329637142032806 17162 155112
Destroyed7,5121,07867511,4541,522501452,756 443144
Major Damage5,94678097401,4201,5203025461,36264983884
Minor Damage8,3901,07688492,0041,5526081032,201398616991

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Date modified:March 22, 2006
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