Last Friday marked the 35th anniversary of a tornado outbreak that history has not yet topped. The April 3-4, 1974, “superoutbreak” produced 148 tornadoes within a 24-hour period. This is the largest number on record, according to the Web site Xenia Tornado.com. During the height of activity, 15 tornadoes were on the ground simultaneously. Some 315 persons were killed and 5,484 were injured in 13 states and Canada. Tornadoes traveled a total of 2,598 miles.
Would you fly in conditions like those? Me, either.
But two other pilots did. The late Dick Gilbert, then traffic reporter and helicopter pilot for WHAS in Louisville, Kentucky, was airborne at the time. A transcript of his reports–he followed a tornado by watching the explosions of electrical transformers on the ground–can be read online.
Another pilot’s encounter was inadvertent. Earlier that day Richard Schwarz left Jeffersonville, Ind.–just across the Ohio River from Louisville–for Mad River, Ohio, and was overtaken by the weather near Cincinnati; air traffic controllers helped him find the airport minutes before Xenia, Ohio, was nearly obliterated by an F5 tornado.
While I was too young to fly at the time, I do remember that day–much of it spent below ground, in a Kentucky basement.