Today's Tornado Setup Similar to 1974 Super Outbreak

March 2, 2012; 11:00 AM ET
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Map by T. Theodore Fujita, The University of Chicago.

The setup and aftermath on Friday for the Ohio and Tennessee valleys could be similar to the weather pattern during and following the 1974 Super Outbreak.

Spanning April 3-4, 1974, a swarm of tornadoes tore through areas from Illinois and southern Michigan to northern Alabama and Georgia.

The outbreak produced 148 confirmed tornadoes, six of which were F-5 intensity. The most powerful of these storms slammed into Xenia, Ohio.

Every weather pattern no matter how similar always has its differences, and this outbreak will have its own characteristics.

However, according to Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity, "In the case of the end of this week and back in early April of 1974, it appears strong upper-level winds and cool air approaching from the west could hit a zone of advancing warm, moist air in just the right manner to produce monsters of thunderstorms."

RELATED:

Large, Dangerous Tornado Outbreak Forecast Friday

This is not to say communities that were hit by the tornadoes in 1974 will be hit again, as the atmosphere is much more random than this.


A tornado killed 25 people in Guin, Ala., on April 3, 1974, during the deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history. A community shelter built a few years ago to provide a safe haven to residents of a housing project that lacks basements in Guin, Ala., is shown. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

"There will be a strengthening storm system tracking to the northeast from the southern Plains to the Great Lakes," Margusity said.

Former West Lafayette, Ind., resident Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews recalls that outbreak.

"Having one of the super cell thunderstorms pass right over my town was the scariest moment of my life," Andrews said.

Fortunately, Andrews' town was spared any major damage.

This outbreak is not likely to extend as far north into the Great Lakes region as that of 1974.

We pray the storms are far less intense and hope they avoid places where people live.

We do urge that people take this threat seriously, as there is a risk of violent storms sweeping through population centers and rural communities.

Also similar to 1974, a sweep of cold air in the wake of the tornado outbreak will yield areas of snow.

Snow blanketed Xenia only hours after the devastating tornado swept through in early April of 1974.

Most of any snow that falls this weekend immediately in the wake of severe weather will tend to be focused near the Great Lakes into the central Appalachians.


A disturbance dropping southeastward from the northern Plains could bring spotty snow into portions of the Appalachians and the Tennessee and Ohio valleys late in the weekend.

The pattern could add to the misery of cleanup operations from the midweek event and, woefully, from Friday into Saturday.

It is possible some snow showers dip as far south and west as portions of the Ohio and Tennessee valleys by early Monday.

According to Severe Weather Expert Dan Kottlowski, "At least the weather pattern in the wake of the storms Friday into Saturday will be much less volatile in these areas and others for many days."

Drier, more stable air will settle over the region through much of next week.

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