April 3-4, 1974 "Super Outbreak" of Tornadoes:  Impacts on Illinois

Map of April 3-4, 1974 Super Outbreak.

Tornadoes from April 3-4, 1974 outbreak plotted by strength

Map of April 3-4, 1974 tornado outbreak, from the University of Chicago.  Numbers indicate the order of occurrence within the outbreak. Click to enlarge.

Map of tornadoes based on strength.  Map courtesy of the Storm Prediction Center and the National Severe Storms Laboratory.  Click to enlarge.


Background:

On April 3, 1974, the beginning of a widespread severe weather outbreak was occurring in Illinois. Within a 24 hour period, a total of 148 tornadoes occurred in 13 states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York), as well as Ontario, Canada. This stood as the largest tornado outbreak on record, until 358 tornadoes occurred over a 4 day period from April 25-28, 2011.

This tornado outbreak killed 319 people across the nation, and was the deadliest tornado outbreak since April 5-6, 1936, when 454 people were killed over the southeast U.S. (primarily in Tupelo, MS, and Gainesville, GA). The 1974 outbreak remains the most violent on record, with 30 tornadoes ranked as F4 or F5 on the Fujita Scale.


Illinois Tornadoes:

The outbreak began in Illinois early afternoon Central time on April 3. Twelve of the 148 tornadoes in this outbreak touched down in the state. Four of them were of F3 strength; these affected portions of Macon, McLean, Champaign, and Vermilion Counties. The one in Decatur did the most damage.  Two deaths were reported in the state, with 30 injuries.

 

Decatur damage.  Photo courtesy of the Decatur Herald and Review

Suction vortices near Anchor due to tornado.

Some of the strongest damage that was observed in Decatur.  Image from the Decatur Herald and Review.

A flight over the tornado track near Anchor showed spiral markings on the ground, caused by multiple suction vortices within the tornado.  Image from T.T. Fujita.

The track maps below represent the approximate path of the tornadoes (click images to enlarge).

Morris (Grundy County)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #1

Tornado #1:  Morris

Strength:  F0
Touchdown Time: 1:10 pm CDT
Path Length: 0.1 mile
Deaths: 0
Injuries: 0

Storm Details:

In addition to the tornado, half inch diameter hail was reported, and strong winds caused about $1000 damage.  The storm also produced 1.5 inches of rain at Morris in only 30 minutes.

Southeast of Carlock (McLean County)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #2

Tornado #2:  Southeast of Carlock 

Strength:  F0
Touchdown Time: 2:07 pm CDT
Path Length: 0.1 mile
Deaths: 0
Injuries: 0

Storm Details:

This tornado touched down 5 miles southeast of Carlock, but caused no damage.

Lincoln to McLean (Logan and McLean County)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #3

Tornado #3:  Lincoln to McLean

Strength:  F1
Touchdown Time: 2:08 pm CDT
Path Length: 16.7 miles
Deaths: 0
Injuries: 0

Storm Details:

This tornado touched down 2 miles southeast of Lincoln, and raced northeast at 70 mph into northeast McLean County.  It arrived in the town of McLean at 2:16 pm, causing $600,000 damage.

South of Colfax to near Anchor (McLean County)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #4

Strength: F3
Touchdown Time: 2:30 pm CDT
Path Length: 7.4 miles
Deaths: 0
Injuries: 0

Storm Details:

This tornado touched down 3 miles south of Colfax and moved northeast, passing south of Anchor by about a mile.  Buildings and equipment were destroyed on 8 separate farms.  Aereal surveys showed spiral damage patterns caused by multiple vortices within the tornado.

Decatur (Macon County)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #5

Tornado #5: Blue Mound/Decatur

Strength: F3
Touchdown Time: 2:30 pm CDT
Path Length: 20.9 miles
Deaths: 1
Injuries: At least 26

Storm Details:

This tornado touched down 10 miles west-southwest of Decatur, just north of the Sangamon River.  It moved east-northeast, and crossed old US-36 about a mile west of Wyckles Corner, damaging a number of homes and power lines there.  It then moved across the Macon County Fairgrounds, killing an elderly man and severely injuring his wife.  It crossed I-72 4 miles north of Decatur, lifting a section of concrete where the interstate was being built.  The tornado lifted 5 miles north-northeast of Decatur.  Damage was estimated at $3.4 million, including the destruction of 52 homes and major damage to 110 others.  In some locations, the damage was very close to F4 intensity.

Southeast of Farmer City to West of Fisher 
(Piatt and Champaign Counties)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #6

Tornado #6:  SE of Farmer City to W of Fisher

Strength: F1
Touchdown Time: 3:10 pm CDT
Path Length: 10.9 miles
Deaths: 0
Injuries: 0

Storm Details:

This tornado touched down midway between Farmer City and Mansfield, and moved northeast to near the McLean/Champaign County line west of Fisher.

Owaneco (Christian County)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #7

Tornado #7:  Owaneco

Strength: F1
Touchdown Time: 2:45 pm CDT
Path Length:  8.5 miles
Deaths: 0
Injuries: 0

Storm Details:

This tornado destroyed a building in Owaneco and damaged a grain elevator, before continuing northeast through mainly open country.

Northeast of Hammond (Piatt County)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #8

Tornado #8:  Hammond

Strength: F0
Touchdown Time: 3:25 pm CDT
Path Length: 3.3 miles
Deaths: 0
Injuries: 0

Storm Details:

This tornado touched down just east of Hammond, and tracked to the northeast, causing about $3,000 damage.

Tolono, Philo (Champaign County)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #9

Tornado #9:  Tolono to Philo

Strength: F3
Touchdown Time: 3:48 pm CDT
Path Length: 5.9 miles
Deaths: 1
Injuries: 0

Storm Details:

This tornado touched down 2 miles west of Tolono, killing one person inside a mobile home.  A large barn, 3 tool sheds and some farm equipment were destroyed 2 miles northeast of Tolono, killing 5 cows in the process.  Four farms were damaged as the storm passed near Philo, and tracked northeast to pass just north of Philo.

Southwest of Homer to Near Fithian 
(Champaign and Vermilion Counties)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #10

Tornado #10:  Southwest of Homer to north of Fithian

Strength: F3
Touchdown Time: 3:55 pm CDT
Path Length: 14.9 miles
Deaths: 0
Injuries: 0

Storm Details:

This tornado touched down 4 miles south of Sidney, then moved northeast through the Homer Lake Conservation Area to just east of Ogden, continuing into Vermilion County.  Several homes and the park headquarters were destroyed.  The tornado blew 3 trucks off I-74 just east of Ogden.

Bismarck (Vermilion County)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #11

Tornado #11:  Bismarck

Strength: F2
Touchdown Time: 4:25 pm CDT
Path Length: 7.8 miles
Deaths: 0
Injuries: 12

Storm Details:

This tornado, from the same thunderstorm that produced the F1 tornado near Homer and Fithian, touched down 2 miles southwest of Bismarck and moved northeast.  It significantly affected homes on the west side of Bismarck, as well as the township high school.  Damage in Bismarck was estimated at $1 million.

Mattoon (Coles County)

Sequence Within Outbreak: #17

Tornado #12:  Mattoon/Charleston

Strength: F1
Touchdown Time: 4:30 pm CDT
Path Length: 14.8 miles
Deaths: 0
Injuries: 0

Storm Details:

Several funnel clouds were observed across Coles County during mid afternoon.  One touched down near Mattoon, causing minor damage to some signage.  However, the clouds mostly remained aloft over the path shown.

 

 


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