We Love Weather Exclusive

The Infamous Xenia Tornado: A Look Back 43 Years Later

It’s no secret meteorologist Mike Bettes has a passion for weather, but he’s also very passionate about tornadoes. This week marks the 43rd anniversary of the 1974 Super Outbreak, which included the Xenia tornado that tore through and catastrophically damaged Xenia, Ohio. We asked Mike about the deadly tornado, the impacts from it, and how it played a role in his curiosity in meteorology.

For those who don’t know, describe when and where the 1974 tornado outbreak occurred.

The 1974 Super Outbreak, as it’s known, was a tornado outbreak that occurred April 3-4, 1974. There were 148 tornadoes across 13 states in roughly 24 hours.

How much damage did the tornado outbreak cause?

The Super Outbreak killed 335 people and injured another 6000. 32,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Total cost was approximately $4 billion in current dollars.

What meteorological components played a role in the massive outbreak?

A very intense low pressure system moved from the Plains into the Midwest. A strong jet stream coupled with extraordinarily humid air, that stretched all the way to Canada, created the perfect conditions for tornadoes.

Describe the characteristics of the deadliest tornado in the outbreak- the Xenia tornado.

The Xenia, Ohio tornado became the benchmark tornado of the Super Outbreak because of its intensity and high loss of life. I was a large multi-vortex tornado that destroyed a significant portion of Xenia. It was rate as a F-5 tornado, the highest rating on the Fujitsu Scale. 32 people died in the tornado, along with 2 National Guardsmen who died during recovery in a fire.

What made the Xenia tornado so unique?

The intensity and location of the Xenia tornado made it unique. It didn’t just spin in open farm land. This single tornado was the strongest tornado in the largest outbreak ever recorded. It was also rare to document a tornado on camera then, by several minutes were recorded by a resident as the tornado struck, verifying that it was indeed a multi-vortex tornado.

What impacts did the Xenia tornado have on the town?

Xenia was devastated, but worked quickly to rebuild. The city also became very weather savvy and installed numerous tornado sirens afterward. Before the outbreak they had none.

Did the meteorological world learn anything new about tornadoes from the Xenia tornado/the outbreak?

The Super Outbreak and Xenia tornado were studied extensively. Meteorologists learned more about multi-vortex tornadoes, tornado behavior, as well as downburst winds. Dr. Ted Fujita studied the Super Outbreak for nearly a year.

Were there any changes made by the National Weather Service after this outbreak?

The Super Outbreak became a focal point of a multi-billion dollar modernization of the National Weather Service. Doppler radar was the central feature that currently helps detect tornadoes. The Super Outbreak also helped quickly advance the Federal Disaster Relief Act through Congress.

Did this tornado have any impact on your personal curiosity and love of weather?

As a kid growing up in Ohio, the Xenia tornado was all anybody talked about when it came to tornadoes. I thought that every tornado was like the Xenia tornado. Tornadoes scared me a lot, until I got older and realized how rare the Xenia tornado was and how most tornadoes aren’t F-5s. It did spark my curiosity in weather though and was one of the reasons I became a meteorologist.

Do you remember the Xenia tornado and/or the 1974 Super Outbreak? Tell us your stories in the comments below.


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35 Comments


  1. I live in Ohio and I’ve heard a lot about the Xenia tornado. I live in the same region where Xenia is and the local tv stations talk about it.

  2. Even though Mike Bettis I didn’t go through the 1974 outbreak but I had experience a tornado that had formed beside me when the 2012 dericho hit me

  3. I grew up in Youngstown and was 10 years old at the time, but I remember listening to either radio or tv alerts about Xenia being hit. Although I loved storms since my childhood, and still do, especially tornadoes, I was scared that it might hit Youngstown too. If I had only known the distance between Xenia and Y-town back then, I wouldn’t have worried so much.

  4. I was stationed at Wright-Patterson AIr Force Base at the time and studying Geography at Wright State University. I was taking a class in aerial photography analysis. We were able to get aerial photos from the Air Force of the tornado path. The destruction was unbelievable. The thing that impressed me the most was in one place the tornado took a jog from its path to go through a trailer park and then went back to its original path. Right then I decided I would never live in a trailer park.

  5. Hi! I’m Vicki…i was just 11 at the time but remember the funnel cloud forming over our house in West Carrollton as if it were yesterday. I also remember Gil Whitney & that ’70’s state of the art radar shot…my mom & dad decided we should be gawking outside instead of in the hallway under pillows after “the sun was gone”. It was a sick color of green & the air was as heavy as the jungle when we looked up to see a huge wall of dark cloud coming toward us. As it passed over we could see the swirl of lighter cloud folding into a cone of dark cloud just beginning to lower at the base. Our neighbor took 2 pictures then looked at us & said “I’ve been thru a tornado & that is a funnel cloud & I’m going in the house” & it was as if we snapped out of a trance. In we ran & we stayed in our hallway under a mattress for the duration of the rest of the storm as it moved by. And after that…well I’ve been a storm freak ever since lol! A sad day for our area though one i hope never repeats itself. Take care & stay weather safe!!

  6. ……Hey everybody!! We’re new to the weather community and forum but we’ve been HUGE fans of the channel and it’s people for about 10 to 12yrs time! We have the rather unique experience of being here in Oakland Park, Fla. (an eastern suburb of Ft Laud., Fla., very close to the beaches etc., until 2014, it was called Fort Laud., Fla ) since May of 1966, when we came down as children, etc., so ANY HURRICANE questions you have, ask away!!The Natl Hurricane Center is about 23 mi south of us, in Miami, Fla. at the “Univ of Miami” college! …My beautiful wife is a Spec Peds Charge Nurse & Trauma nurse , and I’ve done ALL KINDS of “post disaster curfew-martial law patrolling” after hurricanes , and recovery work, including the Hurricane from Hell, ANDREW, & the entire next yr working out of tent city to insure no looting/rioting, rendering 1st Aid, marking houses, rescuing trapped animals, & re-laying and making a map of Miami, Fla., (we averaged about 14 mi a day on foot!) , about 4or 5 others before that , and since ANDREW about 10 more major post hurricane recovery works over the years, etc., and keep very close eyes on your awesome channel & shows….!!!…Glad we finally fig’d out how to join, contact us anytime you want to, we’ll be your “24/7 eyes and ears on the ground in Hurricane central” ,& have a great evening! Chef David & Vyktorya Mitchell, Saturday, 4/08/17, 6:58pm…………..////////////

  7. Yes I remember it I live In NW Ohio in Defiance Co I was 16 and still remember it very well . If I remember right even though we lived in the NW part of the state my Dad found Mail addressed to someone in Xenia Ohio that was 133 miles from where we lived to Xenia

  8. I visited The university of Dayton two weeks earlier and went to school in Dayton. People talked a lot about the xenia tornado and I drove through xenia 4 years later and the town clock was still broken.

  9. I worked just outside of Xenia at the time. Working second shift, I was arriving at work as the hail began. Across a large field a smaller tornado was destroying a barn as we watched from a loading bay. Several families were brought from Xenia to shelter at my workplace that night. We brought in cots and mattresses and tried to make them as comfortable as possible.

  10. I was at my Grandmother and Grandfathers house in Ft Loramie, Ohio. West of Xenia. The storm hit a body shop down the road. It was darn and scary. Just missed my Uncles house. The sky was incredible. Maybe that’s why I love weather

  11. I was in the Air Force stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB at that time. I recall the large hail as the storm was just a few miles from me. I was with a team of volunteers to help with the storm recovery in Xenia. The town was devastated. The tornadoes path went right through the center of Xenia. I can remember that day as if it was yesterday. What really got to me is the residents who had little of anything left were so kind and thankful for our help. As we worked throughout the day there were food trucks available for those who needed food. I had no idea that a tornado could cause so much destruction. I do remember at the end of the day I was so exhausted I sat down on the boulevard in the middle of the town and I could see what was left of the big clock tower. I’ve had a great deal of respect for storms ever since that day 43 years ago.

  12. We were living across the Ohio River from Cincinnatti at the time. There were 19 tornadoes over the city. Two headed toward each other where the Licking and Ohio Rivers meet, hit, and broke into four headed in four different directions. Into the night the roar of the winds overhead was like multiple freight trains. My wife was 6 weeks from the birth of our first child, so it was not a fun experience. A couple of months later we drove through Xenia. It looked as if a huge mile-wide lawnmower have mowed the town down. The only place I have ever seen worse destruction was Biloxi/Gulfport after Katrina–and that includes living through Andrew in 1992.

  13. I lived in Gallipolice, OH at the time. Several of us guys went to Dayton, OH to the Hamfest, (Amateur Radio convention), and we went through Xeina on our way. When we came back two days later, it looked as though a bomb had dropped. We were not allowed to go through town of course, and had to detour around Xenia. I had stopped at was once a stopsign, and we had to get out and look to belive it. Straw was embedded in the remains of the stop sign post. We went away with a new respect of what a tornado winds were capable of.

  14. I was about 6 years old when it hit. The same storm produced a tornado that struck Willard, Ohio – only 12 miles west where I live. My Dad saw the tornado and phoned home to tell us to get to the basement. We all went to the basement into the crawl space. My mother went topside and I was very scared that she’d be killed. Fortunately, the tornado stayed south but did tremendous damage to US Route 224, but Mom said it was intense and we all walked down to survey the damage. The road was tore up and the trees snapped like twigs; however, no loss of life was recorded.

  15. I lived in Kettering, south of Dayton, and worked for an insurance agent. He closed the office and sent us all home when the storm approached. My little 1970 Fiat 850 Spyder ended up with acne due to hail that was softball size. My husband and dog spent the night in the basement as the storms continued thru the night. Will never forget it.

  16. At the time of the Zenia tornado I had already left the USAF where I was a weather specialist. My personal tornado memory is the Worcester MA tornado of June 9 1953, when it hit close to my neighborhood just minutes after I had crossed its path on foot. Ranked as one of the worst Tornadoes in US history, it killed 94 people as it passed over many congested towns along its 40 mile path. Just imagine…. a devastating tornado in Massachusetts, of all places!! That storm inspired me to absorb everything I could learn about weather and, many years later, enlist in the Air Force to be a forecaster.

  17. West Chester, Ohio
    I lived in West Chester, just west of Xenia . . I was taking a shower on the second floor, when my 6 year old came in and said the sun was gone. I looked around a corner and out the window: it was pitch black. I have chills today when I think of it. I grabbed the baby and the 6 year old and ran down the two flights to the basement . We huddled under the basement stairs and listened to the eerie sound of the wind whooshing and sucking on the house. While all was fine for us, except an experience we can not forget, you know the rest…

  18. It was a wensday the sky was blue and the birds were chirping, it was a warm day kind of unusual for April, I was 7 yrs old, they sent us home from school early that day because of the threat, but come on no one really thought are little town of xenia was about to get smashed the way it did. All day there were warning in the south but xenia? Ican still hear it after 43yrs, you know the taste of dirt after a good rain, kinda like that that what it taste like. My mother was taking a nap in her room and my father was sleeping off a good well you know. And he slept right through it. I can still remember looking out the big picture window up at my elementary school old McKinley. And notice a wall of debris just swirling in the sky I yelled at mom there’s a tornado coming I was frantic she said no Johnny its just a train, because she could hear the train behind our house moving down the track,actually the conductor unhitch the box car a got the he’ll out of there he saw what I saw a very large f-5 tornado coming right for him. By the time my mother realized I wasn’t kidding it was almost to late she snatched up bobbi and me a headed to the basement we got to the last stair and the basement door flew open and the wind was so strong at that point it blew all 3 of us across the basement floor. My mom was a little thing God must have have her superpowers that day because she didn’t let loose of either one of us. We finally got under the bed for shelter, my sister Lisa was already there sneeking a smoke wrong place right time for her if you know what I mean. It seem to last forever but actually it was on a couple minutes then it was gone. We knew it had passed because my dad was yelling what the h___ happened because remember he was passed out right in the front room upstairs God must have been looking over him that day. So we all came up stair you could smell natural gas already and people screaming and crying. That first step into the kitchen was lawful there was a hole the size of a car in the roof, it was raining inside the house. We managed to get to the front porch and what I saw next was unreal, at 7 I thought the whole world was ripped apart, everything was upside down. Car horn going off you get my point. 33 people died that day in xenia. I’m still scared of storms today not quite as bad but I respect the weather now and will until God takes me home. I live in South Carolina now (Hurricans) at least you can see them coming right. Well thanks you Mike Bettis For having this blog. It’s been good to tell my story. Weather channel rocks.

    1. Wow…i worked with a gal lived in Arrowhead she was 8 or 9 when it totally disintegrated her house. She & her family were injured; she woke up in the neighbor’s backyard. She has a photo of what used to be where she lived. Chilling. You described it perfectly though God was with Xenia that day could’ve been even worse. God Bless you thanks for sharing your memory & reliving that dark day

  19. I was visiting my mother in Dayton, OH when the tornado hit Xenia. My husband was in school for NCR in Miamisburg, OH. We had a convertible car at that time. The top had been replaced just a few months before the tornado. When my husband got home from his classes he brought in a baseball size piece of hale that had gone through our new convertible top. Our car had dents all over the hood & trunk. The tornado had passed right over the Training Center. We watched the 6 o’clock news & about a half an hour later we were still sitting in the living room & felt ripples going through the house. It was very strange feeling.

  20. I lived in eastern Maryland at that time I was a senior in school but I remember seeing pics on the news. But I moved to nw pa in 75 and went through may 31 tornadoes in 85 that was bad too. Little town of alantic pa was wiped out

  21. I was a duty forecaster at the Air Force Global Weather Center (AFGWC) working on the Military Weather Advisory (MWA). The MWA was the 24 hour tool that the AFGWC used to warn military forecasters of severe weather in the CONUS. During that outbreak, we were creating some of the largest significant tornadic warning areas I had ever seen in my life. During that time, we had numerous discussions with the SELS folks in Kansas City. It was an incredible time. I remember seeing phots and movies of the suction vorticies as it moved into Xenia.

  22. I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago and remember the 1967 Oak Lawn tornado. I was just 7 and remember my mom sending us to the basement. We were so fortunate to escape a direct hit but saw my first funnel cloud that day and was hooked on weather from that moment on.

  23. I was 12yrs old growing up in Fredericktown, Ohio which is over 100 miles to the NW of Xenia. I was already thrilled with storms so I watched out the window as this storm passed by, as I watched I kept noticing things falling from the sky. My neighbor and I went out after the storm to investigate, some were just pieces of paper, others were monopoly cards and then there were things with identities on them, such as checks with Xenia addresses. I still find it incredible today.

  24. I was driving from Cincinnati through Zenia that day around 4:00PM. I stopped at a root beer ( I think it was a A&W) place for a snack. Just after leaving all hell broke lose. I think I read or heard many people in that store were killed. I drove out of fear from Zenia north towards Columbus. There were a few other tornados that were touching down all over the area. They didn’t seem as big but at that point it seemed like the Earth was exploding. Still have memories of the noise and destruction all over the State. It was something you can’t erase from your mind.

  25. I lived in Xenia when the tornado came roaring through. I was 5 yrs old and remember it like it was yesterday. I’m actually in the beginning processes of writing a book about my experience.

  26. I wasn’t born yet when the tornado hit as my mother was just a couple weeks old but I grew up in Xenia. I lived there when the 2000 F4 hit and it was a terrifying experience. However, thanks to growing up in Xenia and living through that, I have a passion for weather and I know what I want to do with my life.

  27. I lived in Youngstown Ohio from 2000-2005 and people still talk about that day I was finishing my sophomore year of high school in Kansas City Ks. I to recall that ugly outburst

  28. I was 10 years old when the Xenia tornado hit. I grew up in a small town in Southwest Ohio called Carlisle. The storms rolled up and over our town before it got to Xenia, they were bad but not as bad… My father was at a car dealership that day buying a new car. As he drove it home, it was pelted with hail stones and had a bit of damage by the time he got there. I remember Gil Whitney from Channel 7 there in Dayton coming on with the warnings…we just sat there and watched everything as it unfolded. I remember the pictures on the news the next day, the stories of finding people who lost their lives in that terrible storm buried in the rubble. My mother took us to Xenia a few months later to visit a friend and the damage was still unbelievable. That tornado was when I became afraid of storms. I will never, ever forget it.

    1. Wow! That sounds insane! I’ve never been through a tornado but, I have had to go down into the basement of my school because severe weather hit. it was actually last year, the weather was cloudy all day and i knew something was going to happen. it was also a really nice day out. I was sitting with my friends near the end of the day ( 3:30 pm actually ) when the rain started. there was a lot of kids outside too, so they rushed everyone in and downstairs down to the basement. It was kinda scary because I didn’t really know what was happening. No one really did. We could see the rain pelting the door that was just across the room. I was having a bit of a panic attack and almost everyone left. It was insane. Left me half a year later still afraid. Also the next day it rained almost as hard AGAIN. Then there was the march 1st event that happened this year. we all know what happened. severe storms moving across indiana. insanity.

    2. Robyn did u live closer to Chautauqua or over towards 123? I had relatives in Farmersville then they had significant hail & wind damage. I remember we had hail & wind damage in West Carrollton