TOLONO, Ill. (WCIA) – 47 years ago, a historic tornado outbreak began right here in Central Illinois.
It was a warm and humid day on April 3rd, 1974. The air was ripe for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms with ample instability, wind shear and moisture needed for violent tornadoes.
The first tornado of the day touched down near Morris, IL in Grundy County. That tornado touched down in the heart of the community and caused minor damage just after 1:00p. But, it was the first of many to come.
In the following 3 hours, 10 more tornadoes would touch down in Central Illinois. Hardest hit was Decatur, where an F3 tornado touched down around 2:30p south of Niantic and ripped through the north and west side of town. It hit the Decatur Fairgrounds and killed an elderly man. His wife was severely injured, with at least 26 total injuries in town. The tornado continued Northeast and crossed I-72 near Forsyth before lifting near Oreana.
Another F3 tornado touched down near Tolono, killing one person in a mobile home. The tornado continued to the northeast, passing just north of Philo, damaging farms and killing several animals. An F3 tornado quickly followed that one and hit Homer Lake, destroying the Park Headquarters and several homes in the area. That tornado lifted near Fithian.
Another significant F2 tornado touched down north of Bismarck along the North Folk Vermilion River near Spud Road and raced through the west side of town. The local Township High School was badly damaged, and 12 people were injured in town.
Other tornadoes touched down near Carlock (F0), Lincoln/Atlanta (F1), Colfax (F3), Farmer City (F1), Owaneco (F1), Hammond (F0), Homer/Homer Lake (F3), and Mattoon/Charleston (F1). This outbreak is one of the strongest tornado outbreaks on Record in Central Illinois with 5 significant tornadoes, rivaling the November 17th, 2013 outbreak in terms of tornado strength.
IL Tornado Count (12) by Rank:
The outbreak would leave lasting damage in Central Illinois, but would go on and cause even more widespread and historic damage from Indiana to Alabama. An incredible 30 violent (F4/F5) tornadoes touched down, with some of the hardest hit communities being Xenia, OH; Monticello, IN; Louisville, KY; Cincinnati, OH; Tanner, AL; Guin, AL; and Huntsville, AL.
This outbreak remains the most violent on record, and killed the most people since the April 5th/6th Tornado Outbreak in 1936 which left 454 dead, primarily in Tupelo, MS and Gainesville, GA (Elvis Presley survived the Tupelo F5 as a baby). The Super Outbreak of 1974 left 319 dead and over 5,400 injured from a historic 148 tornadoes causing $4.5 billion in damage. That record stood until the Historic Tornado Outbreak of April 27th, 2011 in which 360 tornadoes over 4 days left 324 dead.
NWS Lincoln: The April 3-4, 1974 Super Outbreak of Tornadoes — Impacts on Illinois
Decatur Herald and Review: FROM THE ARCHIVES: A look at the 1974 tornado in Decatur
NWS Wilmington, OH: Super Outbreak of 1974 (Xenia and Cincinnati, OH tornado)
NWS Birmingham, AL: April 3rd/4th Tornado Outbreak in Alabama (Tanner, Guin, Huntsville, etc.)