The first tornadoes

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At 2 p.m. on April 3rd, 1974, the first tornadoes of what would end up being 148 tornadoes occurred, which was the greatest tornado outbreak in US history. It would be responsible for the deaths and injuries to hundreds of people as well as the destruction of homes, schools and businesses throughout their deadly paths. It is also noted that there was one tornado that touched down in Ontario, Canada during this outbreak. The tornado outbreak of 1974 was one of greatest natural disasters to ever strike the United States. (http://www.popularmechanics.com/)

In a time span lasting 16 to 18 hours, 330 people were killed and anywhere from 5,400 to 6,000 were injured across areas in the Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois) and eastern states (New York, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, Mississippi). More than 27,000 homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed, resulting in almost 900 square miles of land which was demolished by this outbreak. It was estimated that property damage exceeded 600 million dollars during this outbreak. The town of Harvest, Alabama was hit by two tornadoes. The first was an F5 and later that day, it was hit by an F4. The high-speed winds of the tornadoes ripped houses off their foundations, trees were uprooted, and buses and cars were lifted into the air and dropped in the streets and scattered across the countryside. The town of Xenia, Ohio was hit the hardest by this outbreak. (The Ultimate 10 Natural Disasters: Tornadoes, By: Anna Prokos, Tornado Alert!, By: Wendy Scavuzzo, http://tornadoeshurricanes.suite101.com/)

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The town of Xenia, Ohio was destroyed by one tornado which lasted for nine minutes. The most powerful tornadoes usually only last four minutes. This tornado started nine miles southwest of Xenia which began This tornado began as two funnel clouds and over its time it pick up speed and power which eventually merged into one huge funnel cloud which would destroy the city. This tornado was so powerful, that the town's high school was flattened in its path. When the tornado passed through the town, it destroyed Nine churches, four schools, and 1,333 homes and businesses. Out of all the homes, about 400 newer homes were left completely untouched. There was a total of 33 people killed and 1,600 were injured. One fortunate result of the time the tornado hit the town at 4:40 p.m., was that school was not in session thus reducing the amount of deaths and injuries that would of undoubtedly occurred. It was one of the six F5 tornadoes that struck in the United States on that day. (The Ultimate 10 Natural Disasters: Tornadoes, By: Anna Prokos, http://tornadohurricanes.suite101.com/)

To provide some context and understanding to the previous information about the power of the tornadoes that hit during April 3, 1974 the Fujita Scale explains the ratings which classify a tornado by the damage it causes. This scale rates them from F0, Being the least severe, to F5, being the most severe.

  • F0 Tornadoes have wind speeds of 65-85 mph, and causes damage to siding and shingles of buildings.
  • F1 tornado has wind speeds of 86-110 mph, and causes roof damage, the uprooting of small trees, and overturning of mobile homes.
  • F2 tornado has wind speeds of 111-135 mph, and destroys most mobile homes, uproots large trees, and can shift homes off their foundations.
  • F3 tornado has wind speeds of 136-165 mph, and causes severe damage to houses and large buildings.
  • F4 tornado has wind speeds of 166-200 mph and causes complete destruction of well-built homes and buildings.
  • F5 tornado has wind speeds of over 200 mph and sweeps houses off their foundations.

Out the 148 tornadoes which touched down during this outbreak, 17 were F0, 33 were F1, 32 was F2, 34 were F3, 24 were F4, and 6 were F5. The six cities and towns where the F5 tornadoes touched down were Xenia, Ohio, Harvest, Alabama, Cincinnati, Ohio, Guin, Alabama, Brandenburg, Kentucky and Depauw, Indiana. (http://tornadohurricanes.site101.com/, The 10 Worst Natural Disasters, By Karen Uhler)

Even though there are different types of tornadoes, they all form the same way but cause varying levels destructions. Tornadoes begin forming deep within thunderclouds, where a column of rising warm air starts spinning because of high wind streaming through the top of the cloud. Air begins to be sucked into this column and it starts to spin very fast, Stretching thousands of feet up and down through the cloud. As this funnel descends from the cloud's base, it is now considered a tornado. (Eyewitness Books: Weather, By: Brian Cosgrove)

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Tornadoes are detected mostly by the National Weather Service. Trained severe weather spotters use radar to spot tornadoes. These radars spot large scale rotation from which tornadoes could form. Although it is impossible to detect all tornadoes, most are spotted so warnings can be issued. (http://wunderground.com/)

Most tornadoes are usually caused by severe thunderstorms. There must be two things present to cause a tornado, sufficient instability and wind shear in the lower atmosphere. The instability refers to warmer and more humid conditions in the lower atmosphere and cooler conditions in the upper atmosphere. Wind shear refers to wind direction changing, and wind speed increasing with height. If these things are in place, a tornado can form. (http://www.weatherquestions.com/)

The tornado outbreak of 1974 was one of the worst natural disasters to hit the United States during the 20th century. It caused death and destruction throughout thirteen states. For almost eighteen hours, it was a nightmare for thousands of people.