Tornadoes in Tennessee on 1974/4/3


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The Tornado History Project generates approximate paths through separate historical archives provided by the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) and the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). Paths generated from the NCDC data are typically more detailed, but neither archive gives exact path information. There are several reasons that paths may be inaccurate:

  • Tornado touchdown and liftoff coordinates were recorded with only 2 digits of decimal precision (i.e. [33.72, -86.15] vs [33.71689, -86.15463]). As a consequence, the observed points on the map may be slightly off from actual. Note that beginning in 2009, up to 4 digits of decimal precision are given.
  • Coordinates have not historically been calculated via GPS (Global Positioning System). Thus, tornado touchdown and liftoff coordinates should be considered as estimates only.
  • Tornadoes may not have been in contact with the ground for the entire path as depicted on the map. Storm damage in any location depicted under the "path" should not be inferred.
  • Although paths are drawn as straight lines between any two sets of coordinates, the tornado may have "zigzagged" in some way.
  • Although paths are drawn as uniform thin lines on the map, it is likely that the tornado changed size over its lifetime. Damage in any location depicted under (or not under) the "path" should not be inferred.

Even with the above in mind, the data is the best available. If you see a path that is depicted incorrectly, please post a comment in the tornado forum indicating why you belive the path to be incorrect.

Paths generated from NCDC data are typically more detailed due to the way coordinates are listed in each archive:

  • SPC database - A maximum of 2 coordinates (touchdown and liftoff) is given for each tornado, or each state segment of a tornado if it is a multi-state tornado. Thus the vast majority of paths are depicted as simple straight lines.
  • NCDC database - Some tornadoes have mutliple sets of coordinates within any state, generally corresponding to entry and exit points by county. Thus, since more coordinates have been used to draw the path, the depicted path should be more accurate. Having said that, most tornadoes do not have additional path data in the NCDC archive. When they do, paths are drawn from the NCDC data.

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Summary   Definitions |?|

The following statistics and definitions are derived from the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) historical tornado archive. The Tornado History Project can not guarantee the accuracy of the underlying data within the SPC historical tornado archive. However, the data as presented here is guaranteed to match the SPC data, except where noted.

Some definitions will not be given since they are obvious (i.e. "Date", "Time", etc...)
Special Note: This site uses a unique index number to identify each tornado. This index number is not a part of the official historical tornado archive.

E (Error) (tornado search table only) - A yellow box indicates that the tornado record contains a suspected error. A red box indicates that the tornado record contains an error and has been modified from the official source. Hover over the box for the error text.
Map/Forum (tornado search table only) - Clickable icons for further content related to a tornado.
State - The state or states affected by a tornado.
Fujita - The Fujita scale is an attempt to classify damage from a tornado. F0 being the least damaging, F5 the most. For 2007 and beyond, the Enhanced Fujita (EF) is given.
Fat. - The number of fatalities attributed to the tornado.
Inj. - The number of injuries attributed to the tornado.
Width - Width in yards. It is unclear if this indicates a maximum width or mean width.
Length - Length of tornado path in miles. Note the entire track length is not necessarily all on the ground (some tornadoes "hop and skip".)
Damage - Prior to 1996, this is a range by dollar amount. For 1996 and later, actual damage estimates are in millions.
Crop Loss - Added in 2007. Given in millions of dollars.
Lat/Lon - Contains two sets of coordinates:

  • Touchdown Latitude/Longitude - For single state tornadoes, and the overall record for multi-state tornadoes, the approximate touchdown location in decimal degrees. For the state specific records of multi-state tornadoes, entry point into the state in decimal degrees.
  • Liftoff Latitude/Longitude - For single state tornadoes, and the overall record for multi-state tornadoes, the approximate liftoff location in decimal degrees. For the state specific records of multi-state tornadoes, the exit or lift-off point from the state in decimal degrees.

St. #. - The state tornado number assigned to the tornado for that specific state for that specific year. Generally, state tornado numbers were assigned in the order the tornado occurred, but that is not always the case.
SPC # - The tornado number as assigned by the SPC. Tornado numbers are not unique and reset each year. Generally, tornado numbers were assigned in the order the tornado occurred, but that is not always the case.

Date(s) (yyyy-mm-dd)TornadoesFatalitiesHighest FatalitiesInjuriesHighest InjuriesLongest PathWidest Path
1974-04-03 - 1974-04-033461 people16 people948 people190 people83.3 miles800 yards
User Comments   (1)      
General Comment
2016-01-19 13:47:46
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I was a kid and in elementary school back then.  I lived in southern TN close to the Alabama line.  In those days I never heard the term "tornado warning" used.  In fact the word "tornado" was never used on the news for fear of causing a panic.  We knew them simply as "bad storms."  You would get a forecast of thunderstorms and that was it.  There were no sirens.  Nothing.  Folks knew by the air and by the color of the sky, etc.

I do remember having tornado drills in school.  We were told that's what they were called but the signal was a special tone that was broadcast over the intercom system in the rooms instead of saying "tornado."  Again, not to frighten everybody.  The tone would sound and you first opened all the windows and then went into the main hall and got down with your head down and hands covering your head and your fanny sticking up.  I don't remember having these drills very often.  If we even did them once a year I would be surprised.

But on April 3, 1974 it got crazy!  I remember being in school and it being absolutely pitch black outside.  It's the only time in my life I've ever seen that.  It was so dark the street lights were on.  We had a tornado drill which was probably the real deal although they didn't tell us that.  I remember the principal was walking up and down the hall with a paddle in his hand.  Your fanny was up in the air so if he caught anybody talking or giggling or whispering you got a whack.  I'm sure he was trying to listen and was probably terrified at being responsible for all these kids.  Nothing came about during the day.

That evening my parents went to a cotillion on the other side of town.  They left my sister to baby sit.  All hell started breaking loose with a bad electrical storm and in those days we all had antennas.  It was engraved into your brain that if there was lightning then you unplugged the TV antenna wire so if the antenna got struck by lightning it wouldn't blow out the TV.  My sister was terrified of storms and lightning struck the neighbors antenna and set the house on fire.  She was also terrified of fire.  So we have this awful storm going on and fire trucks outside so my sister called the place having the cotillion and got my Mom on the phone.  On that side of town nothing was going on.  Was as still as could be and Mom thought my sister was over reacting and yelled at her and hung up the phone.  So we called my aunt to come over and sit with us.  She chewed my Mom out when she got home.  LOL.  But if my sister was in a panic then so was I!  I followed her lead.

It was very warm outside so that night we slept with fans going in the bedrooms.  In the middle of the night the electricty went out and my fan stopped running which woke me up.  I heard a strange roaring noise outside and being a kid I was gonna go check it out.  So I walked into the living room and opened the front door.  I could see the trees leaning all the way over and could see some swirling clouds that looked like smoke to me.  I touched the latch on the storm door and it just ripped off it hinges!  

At the same moment my Mom grabbed me by the collar of my pajamas and jerked me back inside and slammed the door.  Then she threw me on the hall floor and jumped on top of me.  Dad was pulling mattresses into the hall to lay on top of us.  Mom said I scared her to death because I told her I saw an upside-down ice cream cone in the sky.  Fortunately it passed us by and didn't hit us directly but we did go out the next day looking at the damage.  I remember years later asking Mom why she yanked me back so hard and she said, "Well what was I supposed to do?  You were being sucked out of the front door!"

We really didn't realize it was a super outbreak or that there were any other storms until a couple of days later and they started talking about it on TV.  We were in shock!  It wasn't like 2011 where they showed you where every one of them were and you had time to prepare.  There was no such thing back then.

But after that things started to change.  "Tornado warninings" became a household name.  Although we didn't get tornado sirens in town until about 20 years later but there was better forecasting.  I think "Severe Thunderstorm" was the catch phrase and you knew to be on gaurd.  After the Xenia tornado we started to hear more about the hook echo.  There were better warning systems and more safety tips after the 1974 outbreak.  But it took that episode to really wake up the country or better yet - the south.  I don't know how my parents knew about getting in the hall and protecting your body.  It simply was not discussed on TV at all.  But after 74 we learned about debris and safer areas of your home.

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