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Map of Tornado Paths, courtesy of the Storm Prediction Center
Map of Tornado Paths. Image courtesy of the Storm Prediction Center.

On a mild Wednesday and Thursday, April 3 and 4, 1974, the United States experienced the biggest outbreak of tornadoes in our nation's recorded history. Meteorologists refer to this as the Super Outbreak in which 148 tornadoes swept across 13 states in roughly a 24 hour time frame.

From Illinois to North Carolina and from Michigan to Mississippi, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms killed 335 people and injured over 6,000. Over 15,000 homes, businesses and farm buildings were destroyed and another 17,000 buildings were damaged.

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Tornado Watches for Indiana
Tornado Watches that Included Central Indiana

Indiana experienced its most devastating tornado outbreak in history. A brief tornado touchdown in Boone county the morning of April 3 was the prelude to the major outbreak. Between 220 pm EST and 800 pm EST, 20 additional tornadoes struck in 38 counties killing 47 and injuring nearly 900 with property losses for nearly 6,000 families. Below are some pictures from the event. Click any image for a larger version.

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F4 tornado near Hanover, Indiana, April 3, 1974. Photos Courtesy of Rosie Graves.

Most of the Indiana tornadoes traveled at nearly a mile a minute and many times there were several tornadoes in progress at the same time. A huge tornado about a half mile wide began near Otterbein northwest of Lafayette and tracked to near LaGrange north of Ft. Wayne. This violent tornado was on the ground for about 109 miles killing 19 people. (The original path length of the tornado was 121 miles, but Dr. Ted Fujita later determined that there were actually 2 tornadoes. The longest one was about 109 miles). The worst destruction from this tornado was in Monticello, Rochester and Ligonier. Another tornado became an F5 as it moved across Southern Indiana near DePauw killing 6 and injuring 76. There were also 2 long tornado paths from near Madison to just west of Cincinnati. Both of these reached F4 in intensity killing 11 and injuring nearly 300. The rest of the tornadoes mostly occurred across the eastern half of the state with F4's at Parker and Kennard.

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F4 Tornado near Parker City, Indiana just east of Muncie. April 3, 1974. Photos Courtesy of Mick Deckman. 

Survey teams including meteorologists, engineers and psychologists found utter devastation in many areas. They found most everyone was aware of the potential severe weather that day. The survey teams were also surprised that most people took the correct action when the storms struck, saving many lives.

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April 3, 1974 tornado damage in Monticello, Indiana. Photos Courtesy of the Monticello Herald Journal.


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