On April 3-4, 1974, the historic Super Outbreak lashed 13 states and Ontario, Canada, spawning 148 tornadoes in 16 hours, killing 315 and injuring at least 5,484 people.
At 4:33 p.m. on Apr. 3, a pair of funnels came together at Bellbrook in Greene County, about 70 miles southwest of Columbus, carving a half-mile-wide path of destruction through the heart of Xenia, along a path of 32 miles that ended in southwestern Clark County.
The F5 tornado killed 33 and injured about 1,300 people in Xenia, and at nearby Wilberforce University, where several buildings were heavily damaged.
Two additional victims included Ohio Air National Guardsmen died in a fire on April 17 that tore through their temporary quarters in a local furniture store in town. Ohio National Guard Soldiers and Airmen aided in recovery efforts in the weeks following the storm.
Ned DeCamp, director of the Madison County historical museum, lived in Centerville at the time. He watched the formative tornado pass overhead, with baseball-sized hail falling from the storm.
The multiple-vortex tornado went on to strike the center of Xenia with deadly precision, as five subvortices merged, captured on 8mm film by a 16-year-old Xenia resident, Bruce Boyd. The film was part of a NOAA documentary and preserved in the government archives.
The supercell continued northeast across Madison and Franklin counties at 50 mph, spinning off two F2 tornadoes between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
One tornado traveled 15.7 miles, first spotted in southeastern Clark County, which moved through Madison County. The funnel made intermittent contact with the ground and stripped the clock tower on top of the Madison County Courthouse, a structure dating back to around 1900.
The damage in downtown London was sporadic because the funnel stayed slight aloft, despite a path width of 180 yards. There were no injuries.
Another touchdown occurred in New Albany a short time later that damaged several homes — at a time when the population was significantly smaller compared to today.
Vince Shuler, president of the Madison County Historical Society, described what happened to a small sign (about 18 by 24 inches) torn off a grain elevator by the twisting winds, which ended up on the first farm north of Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada, traveling a distance of about 150 miles.
Shuler said, “The owner of the farm contacted Shaw Elevator, and sent it to them. The Shaw family donated the sign to the (Madison County) historical society.”
The 1974 Super Outbreak produced a record 30 F4/F5 tornadoes in 24 hours, resulting in more than $4.5 billion (2019 dollars).
The Xenia tornado on Apr. 3, 1974, was the strongest of the 148 confirmed tornadoes that touched down from Ontario, Canada, to Alabama. An estimated 1,400 buildings were severely damaged or destroyed in the storm that affected approximately half of the city.
At least a dozen tornadoes swept through western and southern Ohio on Apr. 3, 1974. Another violent F5 tornado crossed southeastern Indiana and hit the Cincinnati suburb of Sayler Park, claiming two lives. Two tornado fatalities occurred in a storm that hit Elmwood Place, northeast of Cincinnati. A final death was reported in a storm that ripped through Adams County.
Xenia did not have tornado sirens in the spring of 1974. The National Weather Service office in Dayton issued the first of multpiple tornado warnings at 4:10 p.m., based on hook echoes (circulations) evident on the Cincinnati NWS radar in Covington, Ky., information that was relayed to the Dayton office and local media.
A total of 38 direct tornado deaths occurred in Ohio in the Super Outbreak, with at least a dozen confirmed tornadoes. Three tornadoes–two strong–crossed Paulding County in the northwestern part of the state.
As many as 47 died in Indiana, where 21 tornadoes were tracked. A long-track cell traveled 121 miles from near Lafayette, Indiana, to north of Ft. Wayne, taking 16 lives.
The modern weather spotter network and severe weather awareness programs in Ohio were an outgrowth of the devastation incurred by the rash of deadly tornadoes on Apr. 3, 1974.
Today, advanced numerical weather prediction models, and Doppler radar that detects storm rotation, have greatly improved the ability to get out early warnings.