Remembering the Tornado Super Outbreak of 1974

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Forty four years ago, the country was recovering from one of the worst tornado outbreaks in recorded history.
In early April of 1974, the newspaper headlines were about Patty Hearst, and President Nixon owing back taxes.

By April 5th 1974, newspaper headlines were now focused on the tornado destruction, and the high death toll.

There are many notable tornadoes in history, and several notable tornado outbreaks. But April 1974 is one that stands out in history, due to the large number of tornadoes, the widespread damage, and how many large and violent tornadoes occurred in less than 24 hours.

During the days of April 3-4, 1974, 148 tornadoes were recorded, and the tornadoes caused more than 300 deaths across thirteen states. Thousands were injured.
The deadliest tornado was in Xenia, Ohio, the violet F5 tornado killed thirty four people.

Out of the 148 tornadoes, the Storm Prediction Center notes that 48 of those were killer tornadoes, meaning that in 100 tornadoes, no one died.

Of those 148 tornadoes during the outbreak, 6 touched down in Virginia. Four in the southwest corner of the state, one in Roanoke, and one in the Shenandoah Valley.

According to the storm reports, a squall line of storms came through western Virginia on Thursday April 4th before sunrise.
This is not the prime time for severe weather, but tornadoes and severe storms can happen at any time of the day.

Homes, and barns were hit hard by the severe thunderstorm winds in the morning. Dozens of mobile homes in the southwest part of the state were destroyed.
Around 5:00 a.m., a tornado touched down in Roanoke. At it's widest point, the tornado path was a mile wide, and then it narrowed around 50 yards at the end of it's path.
In Augusta county, damage was in the northern part of the county, the extent is an area roughly estimated at 6 miles wide. Now this is not a 6 mile wide tornado, but in addition to a tornado that touched down, straight -line damaging winds carved a path of destruction through the Valley.

A severe weather watch was issued early in the morning around 4 a.m.
About an hour later, a tornado touched down between Staunton and Swoope. It crossed Parkersburg Turnpike, and traveled 15 miles. The path just missed downtown Staunton to the north, traveled through Verona and over the Middle River, through Fort Defiance and ended just southwest of the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport.
According to Newspaper accounts, several farmers reported barns and other buildings damaged. Roofs torn off, fence posts thrown, roads blocked by debris, and many trees down.

The official report from the National Weather Service states that 90 barns were damaged, and two were destroyed. Four homes were also damaged. At the SHD airport several of the hanger doors were badly damaged. A large section of the Fort Defiance high school roof was torn off, and heavy rain soaked the inside of part of the school. Thankfully, since this was so early in the morning, school was not in session.
Winds were estimated to be 70-80mph across the Valley within some storms.

The Augusta tornado was rated an F1 on the Fujita scale. At that time in 1974, an F1 meant that winds are estimated at 74-112mph.

At this point in time, many people were shock and surprised at the damage. It was widely believed that tornadoes didn't happen in the mountains. However, this is completely false. While tornadoes are not as common as they are in the deep south, tornadoes do happen in our area occasionally.

UPDATE: The severe weather that struck the Ohio Valley and into the deep south Tuesday, hit exactly 44 years after the 1974 Super Outbreak.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington, OH has confirmed 3 tornadoes from April 3, 2018. Coincidentally, one near Xenia, Ohio.