NOAA and 1974 Tornado Outbreak



During the late afternoon and evening hours of April 3, at least eight tornadoes, including four extremely intense and long-lived storms, brought death and unequaled 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.

The activity began about 4:30 p.m. CDT, when a brief tornado touchdown (99) caused damage, but no casualties, in the Concord area 8 miles west of Birmingham. Less than an hour later, another tornado strike (112) caused tree and power line damage 8 miles west of Jacksonville (Calhoun County). About 6:30 p.m. CDT a third tornado (108) 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 storm (90) touched ground near Newburg (Franklin County) at 6:30 p.m. 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 p.m. CDT. At 7:35 p.m. CDT, in nearly the exact point of entry near the Tennessee River, a second major tornado (91) set down 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 dealt 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 tornado activity was taking place farther south. At 7:00 p.m. CDT, a tornado (97) 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 p.m. CDT. It then began a skipping path northeastward and heavily damaged a four-block area in southeast Cullman about 8:40 p.m. 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 winds and large hail had hit Columbus, just over the line in Mississippi, and a funnel cloud was sighted at Starkville, Miss. At 8:50 p.m. CDT a very powerful tornado (95) 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 p.m. CDT, killing 23 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 (96) moved northeast to strike south Huntsville at 10:50 p.m. 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 p.m. 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.

For more information contact Curtis Carey at (817) 978-4613 ext. 140.