40th Anniversary of 1974 Super Outbreak

Published 04/04 2014 11:43AM

Updated 04/07 2014 07:32PM

ROME CITY, In. -- April 3rd, 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the 1974 Super Outbreak. Indiana and Ohio were hit hard with numerous tornadoes, damage, injuries, and fatalities.

"There's always certain instances that never leave you. You always think, I can remember this just like it was yesterday."

"It's something that even after all these years, I can remember a lot about it."

"It seems like it was just a few years ago."

These long time Noble County residents recall the events of April 3rd, 1974, one of the worst tornado outbreaks in U.S. history.  Mitch Fiandt, who was 17 at the time, was working as a volunteer firefighter.  As you can imagine, he was watching the weather very closely that day.

"We noticed the sky over west of town getting a real greenish-orange color and everything got real still."

Les Alligood at the time was working as a state trooper.  He was aware of the severe weather through police radio updates and knew storms were headed for Indiana.

"I took out my atlas that I carried in the car, and I started tracking the trajectory of that storm.  When I drew a straight line, if that did not change course, it was going through this area within 50 miles."

And it did.  Linda Speakman-Yerick's husband had been keeping an eye on the weather from the front door of their Rome City home.

"As I got out of the shower, I heard him yelling and I kind of opened the door and wrapped a towel around me and he said, 'Get out here right away!' so I wrapped my towel around me and go running out there and he starts screaming, 'get down, get down!'"

"I looked and saw the tornado coming, so we got in the well pit and closed the top down and were down in the well pit and we could hear the tornado roaring over us."

The tornado moved from Central Noble County to Northeast Noble County, crossing Sylvan Lake.  It skirted the south shore of the lake, then moved to the east end where Speakman-Yerick lived.

"I felt the house start to lift and you could hear this, like, all the water pipes and the gas lines going 'errrr', and it just kind of lifted the house like this and out the door I went."

Speakman-Yerick was thrown about 50 yards.

"It was as if God just set me down on the ground.  I was not hurt whatsoever."

She survived without a scratch.  Others were not so lucky.  Alligood immediately responded to the south short of Sylvan Lake to the Limberlost Trailer Court.

"Some of the trailers were still there, some were damaged, some were blown away."

Fiandt was next on the scene to lend a helping hand.

"Unfortunately, we had two fatalities in the mobile home park and one serious injury."

"We found a woman and her small baby that had been killed."

In total, there were 90 deaths across Indiana and Ohio that day.

"It was a horrendous storm, horrendous tornado, it stayed down and would not seem to come up."

After it was all over, the National Weather Service counted 148 tornadoes in 13 states.  Over 300 people were killed and thousands were injured.

SYRACUSE, In. -- Weather related technology and warning capabilities have changed drastically since the 1974 Super Outbreak.

"Things really went from a fairly pleasant afternoon to a horrific evening and recovery the next day."

It can happen that fast.  National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Michael Lewis remembers the 1974 Super Outbreak.  He was just twelve years old.  After that day, he was inspired to study storms and become a meteorologist.

"Very few people can honestly say they've experienced that large a scale tornado outbreak."

Regardless of whether you've experienced a severe weather outbreak or not, the National Weather Service is working to make sure people are prepared.

"Our mission is to make sure those people survive and can rebuild on another day."

Better radar data helps forecasters track and understand storms and issue appropriate warnings.  This, a big improvement from the black and white, pixelated images of the 70's.  Also, storm warnings have better lead times.

"We are able to have advance notice, to get people warned earlier so they can get to proper sheltering."

Mitch Fiandt, Noble County 911 Director, knows how far the technology has come.

"We didn't have the warning capabilities like we do now."

In the last 40 years, we've seen the implementation and massive capability of the computer.

"The computer was the big integrator, it took all this data and displayed it for us."

Also, communication capabilities have grown by leaps and bounds.  Linda Speakman-Yerick remembers losing her main sources of information during the Super Outbreak.

"We lost power, so we didn't have a television and we didn't have radio."

Today, even with a loss of power, there are still ways to obtain weather information.

"The big difference from '74 is we have information and we can get it to people where they are."

Utilizing the internet, cell phones, radio, television, and social media can help all of us to be better informed and hopefully stay safe. But as they always say, Mother Nature is unpredictable.

"It's just a matter of time before we have another outbreak.  The question is when."

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