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The April 3 - 4, 1974 Tornado Super Outbreak Anniversary Is Tomorrow ... How Does It Compare To The 2011 Super Outbreak?

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Super Outbreak of tornadoes from April 3 - 4, 1974. Anyone that has lived in Kentuckiana very long has heard stories of the legendary Super Outbreak of tornadoes from April 3 - 4, 1974. This outbreak caused an F-5 that absolutely leveled the town of Brandenburg, another F-5 did extraordinary damage in Dapauw, IN, and produced an F-4 tornado in Louisville. For years, this is the only outbreak of tornadoes that took on the name "Super Outbreak" until 2011. The April 25 - 28, 2011 tornado outbreak broke all records for the highest counted tornado event in history and is now referred to as the Super Outbreak of 2011. These are two very rare events, but I think many wonder how these two Super Outbreaks compare to each other? These two events can be compared in a number of ways...


  • Total Number of Tornadoes
  • Total Number of Fatalities
  • Total Number of Violent Tornadoes
  • Total Number of Strong / Violent Tornadoes


These are just a few ways we can compare these events. The total number of tornadoes from April 25 - 28, 2011 is now estimated as 358 tornadoes versus 148 during the Super Outbreak in 1974. Tragically more fatalities occurred in the recent April 25 - 28, 2011 event than the 1974 event. In many ways, the April 25 - 28, 2011 event does appear to be a larger tornado outbreak than the legendary Super Outbreak in 1974. However the question remains... what is this the best way to compare these two events?


I would argue that the only fair way to compare these two tornado outbreaks would be to look at "strong to violent EF-3 / EF-4 / EF-5" tornadoes. I would argue this because our damage surveys are much better now than they were in 1974. What that means is we could have missed many of the smaller tornadoes in 1974, but the large / violent tornadoes would not be missed in either event. To me that seems the only fair way to compare these two legendary events. With that philosphy, let's look at the comparison as we stand right now.


Strong to Violent Tornadoes on April 25 - 28, 2011


  • EF5 Tornadoes - 4
  • EF4 Tornadoes - 11
  • EF3 Tornadoes - 22
  • Total - 37



Rotation tracks on April 27 - 28, 2011 produced by Susan Cobb of the National Severe Storms Laboratory




Strong to Violent Tornadoes on April 3 - 4, 1974


  • EF5 Tornadoes - 6
  • EF4 Tornadoes - 24
  • EF3 Tornadoes - 34
  • Total - 64


Facebook pic




As a scientist, I would personally argue that the only way to compare these two events would be using F-3 or stronger tornadoes. I would have to say the 1974 Super Outbreak was by far the largest this country has ever seen. There were 23 more F3 - F5 tornadoes that occurred during the 1974 Super Outbreak. The 1974 Super Outbreak occurred over 16 hours, while the 2011 Super Outbreak occurred over 3 days making the 1974 event event even more jaw-dropping.


Regardless of which event was the larger tornado outbreak one thing that cannot be disputed... both of the tragic events will be remembered for a life time. These outbreaks have been etched in our memory and so many innocent lives have been lost. As meteorologists, we hope another Super Outbreak never occurs again, but we all will learn as much as we can from these events and prepare for the next if it does occur.





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I can't even believe people said that 2011 was WAY worse

evan, they are both horrific events and tragic. I just think scientifically speaking, the 1974 event was the largest ever.

Amazing how similar the maps look! Thanks for the info!

Heather, the 2011 event never got quite as far north as the 1974 event. That was good for us.

Marc, i can remeber that day in 74 very well, we were haveing an after school filed trip to cherokee park, most ppl had already left, about 20 mins before it hit, but a few of us were still there, we were on barringer hill when we saw it comeing up eastern parkway, we all ran down and laid in the creek at the foot of the hill, and can still recall the noise and the ears popping, as it lifted just slightly as it went over us, the worse feeling I had was after it was over we started walking out and haveing to climb all over the trees and then seeing the daniel boone statue and his rifle being bent,

sorry to post so much but will never forget it,

why i have been a avid weather nut since

stumpjumper, wow! I cannot imagine how frightening that had to be. I am glad you are ok!

OT: What are the chances of seeing another Tri-State Tornado like in 3-18-1925? Do you know of any surviving photographs of that monster and what are your thoughts on it? Was it a single tornado or multiple vortices? My thought is that it happened once, it'll happen again.

Mike, there are a lot of questions about whether that was even a single tornado. Without being there to do the survey, I cannot say. Obviously since we don't know if it was one, then it is tough to say whether a tornado with a track that long could ever occur again here.

Thank you, Marc. Keep up the good work.

Mike, thank you. :)

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