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Events will remember 1974's 'Super Outbreak' of tornadoes

A black and white image of a funnel tornado, angling to the left.
National Weather Service
Frank Altenau took this picture of the tornado in Sayler Park when it was in the Bridgetown area, April 3, 1974.

Fifty years ago today, the largest outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded swept across 13 states, including Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. One-hundred-and-forty-eight tornadoes were recorded, killing a total of 335 people.

The National Weather Service is marking the anniversary in two communities devastated by the storms: Xenia and Sayler Park. Meteorologist in Charge Tom Johnston says both communities were hit by an F5, the strongest tornadoes on the Fujita scale.

"The tornado in Xenia was closer to the warm front on that day. Actually, the storms fired up a little earlier across the Miami Valley, and then a line of supercells came in behind that and affected the Cincinnati area about an hour later."

Thirty-four people were killed in Xenia. Three more died in Sayler Park.

RELATED: How Xenia rebuilt from the 1974 tornado

"It was the only one of the tornadoes that day that crossed in three states," Johnston says. "It actually touched down in southeast Indiana, crossed through northern Boone County, and then strengthened as it crossed the Ohio River to F5 intensity and blasted into Sayler Park in the western part of Hamilton County."

Johnston says the storms led directly to a number of upgrades in weather forecasting and communications.

"It fast-tracked weather radio in both Cincinnati and Dayton, getting the radio weather systems online. And it demonstrated the need for a better radar system than we had in 1974. Through the '80s and early '90s, we rolled out what was then called the 88-D network — a network of doppler radars that now are watching the skies over the whole country."

Johnston says forecasting on both the local and national level is much improved, and today there are many more ways to be alerted.

Sayler Park's remembrance is at the Community Center, 6720 Home City Avenue, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

In Xenia, East Main Street will be closed between Detroit and Whiteman streets for the 4 p.m. ceremony.

Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.