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.