(NEWSnet) – An April 1974 tornado outbreak that stretched from Mississippi to Michigan remains on record as the second-largest tornado outbreak in U.S. history.

It also was a tipping point for weather technology, tornado safety research and public information.

The official data from the National Weather Service is that the April 3-4, 1974, outbreak involved at least 148 tornadoes in 13 states over a 24-hour period, with about 335 people killed and about $600 million in damages. There were also over 6,000 people injured.

The most significant losses happened in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama.

“In the aftermath of this catastrophe, it was clear that changes needed to be made, particularly in the areas of public education and awareness,” a NWS report published in 2020 said. “The nation’s response to this devastating event paved the way to significant improvements in observations technology, including the development of Doppler Radar and GOES satellites.”

A December 1974 report said “Several of the tornadoes were among the most severe ever observed. The magnitude of this outbreak tested NOAA’s tornado warning system fully.”

The NWS concluded that the devastation could have been more severe if had the tornadoes not spun up in late afternoon.

For example, many of the downtown businesses in Monticello, Indiana, normally were closed on Wednesday afternoons; a tornado went directly through the business district. And while schools were directly hit by a tornado in Xenia, Ohio, those students had already dismissed for the day.

In those years, long before cell phone alerts and livestream weather apps, most people learned of dangerous weather through broadcast stations, weather radio systems, police radio and outdoor sirens. 

“The most important element in disseminating watches and warnings was the active participation by television and radio stations,” the NWS report said. “Most stations did not hesitate to interrupt normal programming with warnings as they were received.”

Problems noted included the lack of outdoor sirens and spotter networks in many areas; along with the fact that many in the public did not know the best methods for taking shelter. After this outbreak, the NWS urged tornado drills be mandatory in schools; along with better communication among its bureaus when issuing watches and warnings.

To mark the 50th anniversary, the city of Xenia, Ohio, will hold a special ceremony at 4 p.m. April 3. A gallery of memorabilia also will be on display during April at city hall.

And the National Weather Service in Indianapolis has scheduled an online lecture for 6:30 p.m. April 2.

The 1974 outbreak was the worst in U.S. history until the 2011 Super Outbreak happened. That one included a devastating tornado in Joplin, Missouri.

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