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As part of a continuing effort to remember, celebrate, and learn from our amazing weather, the National Weather Service in Louisville has compiled lists of several "Top 10" events for the County Warning Area.  Here we present the list of the top 10 tornado outbreaks to have ever occured in central Kentucky and southern Indiana.  While many of the top tornadoes to have ever occured in the CWA were part of outbreaks listed here, that is not always the case.  It should also be noted that this list applies to central Kentucky and southern Indiana only; numerous other destructive and deadly tornado outbreaks have occured thoughout the United States. 

As is often the case with meteorological extremes, it is difficult to confine hundreds of years of climatology into a list of just 10 events.  This is a particular challenege with something such as this, where the lives of those affected are changed forever.  In compiling this list, events were weighed based on the number of tornadoes, the number of fatalities, and the strength of the tornadoes that occured.  It should also be noted that for those who are left to pick through the destruction left in a tornado's wake, that event will forever be the most significant, whether it was the only tornado to occur that day or was part of an outbreak of hundreds.  If you wish to express your feelings about this list, or if you have personal stories or photos you'd like to share, please e-mail us at w-lmk.webmaster@noaa.gov.  Please let us know if we may include your comments or experiences here on this page.

1.  March 27, 1890

Louisville in 1890
Destruction in Downtown Louisville

This day holds the record for being the single deadliest across southern Indiana and central Kentucky.  Research can confirm only 5 tornadoes across the CWA, though there were likely more that were not discovered or otherwise went unreported.  The deadliest of these tornadoes ripped a path of F4 destruction through downtown Louisville claiming 76 lives, including 44 at the Falls City Hall in Louisville, which remains as one of the highest single-building death tolls ever recorded.

Elsewhere, an F4 tornado moved 60 miles across Ohio, Grayson, Breckinridge, and Hardin Counties, taking the lives of 7 people.  2 F3 tornadoes and an F2 tornado also occurred this day, claiming another 9 lives.

2.  Super Outbreak

April 3, 1974

Northfield in 1974
Destruction in Northfield, Kentucky

Beginning on April 3 and lasting through the night into April 4, at least 148 tornadoes tore across 13 states, all within the span of 16 hours.  Once the final funnel had lifted, 330 people were dead, with over 5,000 injured.  Up to that date the Super Outbreak held the record for the most tornadoes to ever occur in a single day.  Across southern Indiana and central Kentucky, 21 tornadoes touched down in just 10 hours. The only two F5 tornadoes on record in the Louisville CWA both took place on this same day.  One of those F5 twisters slammed into downtown Brandenburg, Kentucky, resulting in 31 deaths.  The other F5 moved an amazing 65 miles through rural parts of Perry, Crawford, Harrison, Washington, Clark, and Scott Counties in Indiana.  Miraculously, the tornado missed any large communities, and claimed only 6 lives. 

In Louisville, an F4 tornado touched down just northwest of Standiford Field and chewed northeast through the city and its suburbs before finally dissipating in Oldham County.  Countless trees, some 200 years old, were ripped from the ground in Cherokee Park.  The worst damage in the Louisville area took place in the affluent suburb of Northfield, where many large homes were destroyed in the blink of an eye.

Though the death toll in Louisville was low, nearly 80 people perished throughout the region.  38 of the 59 counties in the Louisville CWA were struck by at least one tornado during the Super Outbreak; 7 of those counties were hit twice.  Official records indicate that 2 F5, 9 F4, 5 F3, 3 F2, and 3 F1 tornadoes occurred that day, meaning that one-half of the recorded twisters were classified as either F4 or F5- “devastating” or “incredible” tornadoes.

Photo:  Russ Conger/NWS

 

3.  Not Just the Tri-State...

 March 18, 1925

On the same day that the Great Tri-State Tornado claimed 700 lives across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, 49 people were killed by at least 4 tornadoes in the Louisville County Warning Area.  A monster F4 tornado crossed into Kentucky from Tennessee, ripping a 60 mile path of destruction through Allen, Barren, Monroe, and Metcalfe Counties before finally lifting, leaving 39 dead and nearly 100 injured in its wake.  Another F4 moved through Harrison County, Indiana into the extreme southwestern part of Louisville before dissipating near Iroquois Park, killing 4.  3 F3 tornadoes tore through south-central Kentucky and the Bluegrass, killing 6 and leaving behind a combined 115 miles of destruction.

4.  Super Tuesday

February 5-6, 2008

Holland, KY, in 2008
Damage Following the Super Tuesday Outbreak

On the same day that 24 states were conducting primary voting for the 2008 presidential election, at least 84 tornadoes claimed 57 lives across the lower Ohio Valley and Southern United States.  Much of the day was characterized by anomalously warm temperatures, with highs in many places across the South in the upper 70s to lower 80s, all ahead of a strong cold front.  In Louisville, a high temperature of 68 was recorded at Standiford field on the 5th, with an early morning high of 67 on the 6th.  The high temperature in Louisville on February 7, after the outbreak, was 36 degrees.

Beginning around 10 PM local time, storms began moving through central Kentucky and southern Indiana, first as discrete cells, and later as a strong squall line.  Eighteen twisters were confirmed, making Super Tuesday the second largest outbreak in number of tornadoes recorded, second only to the 21 confirmed tornadoes on April 3, 1974.  Unlike the Super Outbreak, however, most of the tornadoes in the Louisville forecast area on February 5-6 were relatively weak, with short path lengths.  Unfortunately, 4 people were killed by an EF3 tornado, all in Allen County, Kentucky.  An additional EF3 tornado moved through Monroe County, and numerous EF2, EF1, and EF0 tornadoes occurred with the squall line as it raced across the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky.

5.  April 27, 1971

On this day, 6 twisters moved across southern Indiana and central Kentucky, killing 9. Six of those lives were taken as an F4 ripped through the vicinity of Mt. Pleasant Church, a few miles northeast of Columbia in Adair County.  2 more lives were taken in Russell County, as another F4 tore a path of destruction through Gosser Ridge.  An F3 tornado killed one person as it moved through Butler and Warren Counties.  Along the nearly 30 mile path, a six-room brick house was destroyed, along with several large trailers.

6. June 2, 1990

On this day, 65 tornadoes roared across Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.  The Louisville CWA was on the southern periphery of the worst weather; nevertheless, 12 tornadoes touched down across the area, including one F4 that clipped the northwest edge of Orange County, Indiana, toward the end of its nearly 100 mile long path.  F3 tornadoes moved through Washington, Scott, Jefferson, Floyd and Clark Counties in Indiana, and Trimble, Oldham, and Henry Counties in Kentucky, injuring 26 and having an average path length of just under 20 miles.  Fortunately, no lives were lost this day across the Louisville CWA, though several were lost in Indiana, including 7 in Petersburg, just west of the Louisville forecast area.

7.  March 28, 1997

March 28, 1997 tornado outbreak map
11 Tornadoes Left Paths of Destruction Across the Lousiville CWA

On March 28, 1997, 26 tornadoes touched down across the Commonwealth, with 11 of those occurring in the Louisville CWA, claiming 2 lives.  One death occurred in Hammonville when a man was killed as an F3 tornado tore through his house.  An additional F3 tracked 13 miles across Adair County where 7 people were injured and $3 million of damage was left in the twister’s wake.  The other death occurred in Summer Shade, where a young woman was killed when her mobile home was destroyed.  9 more twisters struck Adair, Casey, Russell, Hart, Green, LaRue, Marion, Nelson and Hardin Counties in Kentucky, along with Scott and Jefferson Counties in Indiana.  Adair, Metcalfe, and Hart Counties were all struck by at least 3 separate tornadoes on this day.

8.  May 28, 1996

Bullitt County in 1996
The Remains of a Home in Bullitt County

On May 28, 1996, F0 tornadoes caused minor damage in Dubois, Anderson, Barren, Jessamine, Fayette, Harrison (KY) and Lincoln Counties.  The most impressive damage, however, was caused by a cyclic supercell as it first split over southern Indiana, with the right-moving portion producing F2 damage across southern Harrison County, Indiana, passing one mile south of New Middletown.  The worst damage occurred in extreme southern Jefferson County, Bullitt County, and Spencer County, as a massive F4 monster ripped a path of destruction across the countryside.  In Bullitt County, where the worst damage occurred, thousands of homes were destroyed, with damage estimated to be around $100 million.  Miraculously, only 10 people were injured, and no one was killed.  The same supercell went on to produce F2 damage in Anderson and Woodford Counties, where the worst damage occurred south of Lawrenceburg in the area of Gilbert’s Creek Road.

9.  May 18, 1995


Weather map on May 18, 1995

 NCEP Renalysis of 500 hPa Height Field on the Morning of May 18, 1995

 Beginning on May 17, a strong trough (-2~ -3 standard deviations from normal) ejeced northeastward out of the Southern Plains toward the Ohio Valley.  As a strong surface cyclone moved up the Ohio River, gulf moisture surged north, setting up a classic springtime severe weather episode.  On the 18th,  20 twisters struck Kentucky, half of which occurred in the Louisville CWA.  F2 tornadoes caused damage in Mercer, Breckinridge, Metcalfe, Warren and Hardin Counties.  Additional F1 damage occurred in Bullitt County, and F0 damage occurred in Metcalfe County.  Only a handful of injuries were reported, and no deaths occurred.

10.  October 18, 2007

Clark County, IN, in 2007
NWS Personnel Survey Damage in Clark County, IN

This was part of a much larger outbreak that spawned at least 64 tornadoes across 14 states over the course of 3 days, making it the largest October tornado outbreak ever recorded.  Across southern Indiana and central Kentucky, 7 tornadoes were confirmed.  EF3 damage occurred in Clark County, Indiana, where a home, two barns, a silo, and a stable were destroyed.  EF2 damage was caused by a twister in Breckinridge County, where a church was destroyed in Rosetta.  Additional EF1 damage occurred in Meade, Bullitt, and Hancock Counties in Kentucky and Perry County in Indiana.  EF0 damage was reported in Jefferson County, Kentucky and Dubois County, Indiana.  Fortunately, no major injuries or deaths were reported.


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