40 years after big tornado outbreak, 'Xenia lives' to remember those lost, share community spirit

Forty years ago Thursday, a destructive F-5 tornado ripped through Xenia, destroyed everything in its path and killing 32 people. It created what would be remembered, even decades later, as the 1974 Tornado Super Outbreak.

The event is still the worst outbreak in U.S. history. Other outbreaks have claimed more lives or produced more tornadoes overall, but the outbreak in 1974 had an unprecedented number of large, damaging tornadoes.

The 1974 outbreak produced 23 tornadoes that hit F-4 status, and seven F-5 tornadoes -- the worst on the Fujita scale. The United States typically sees seven tornadoes of that magnitude in an entire year.

The "Xenia Outbreak"

Some Tri-State residents still refer to the event as the "Xenia Outbreak " because of the extreme damage and loss of life suffered there.

The twister was just one of 148 confirmed tornadoes on April 3, 4, 1974. In two days, more than 300 people died in 13 states. Xenia was one of the hardest hit areas.

The Xenia tornado was one-half mile wide and cut a path 32 miles long through Xenia and Wilberforce. It damaged at least 10,000 buildings and destroyed 1,000 homes.

Cindi Blake survived the Xenia tornado.

"It got darker and darker, and the rain … and the power went out," Blake said. "The wind just came through the house and it was just very, very scary."

Catherine Wilson also remembers the fear of the funnel.

"We got in the bathtub … a few screaming seconds later, it was over," she said. "We heard the glass breaking, and swirling around, hitting all the walls … all the doors slammed at once. It was very scary."

A tornado on the west side of Cincinnati killed two people in Sayler Park. Tornadoes also touched down and caused damage in London, Mason and rural areas of Adams County.

Watch archived footage of the outbreak in the video player above.

RELATED: Tom McKee recalls covering the super outbreak

In 2003, the historical marker was dedicated to serve as a permanent reminder of what happened that day, and reads, "Xenia lives."

"For us Xenia people, 'Xenia Lives' means we are strong, we survive … we come back from whatever anything throws at us. One of the worst disasters recorded … we are coming back, we are strong!" Wilson said.

Blake said, ""The people just pulled together. There's a spirit that lives here, where it's a sense of community which is why I still live here."

The city held a memorial service Thursday in Xenia to remember those who died 40 years ago. The service included a moment of silence at 4:40 p.m., the time when the tornado, in 1974, came through.

Since then, those communities have rebuilt, and people became more proactive in regard to severe weather. The 1974 event was the catalyst for more tornado research to provide better storm warning systems.

The government began investing money into the National Weather Service for better radars and coverage across the country.

All the ingredients came together for a large outbreak that day.

A large, low pressure system moved across the middle of the country, pulling warm, humid air, necessary for severe thunderstorm development, into the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. Add the mid- and upper-level support in the atmosphere, and everything was there for a nasty weather day.

Something similar happened Thursday, when another low is developed in the middle of the country and worked its way into the Midwest. Rain and storms rushed the Tri-State, bringing a Flood Watch to some areas that would stretch through Friday.

RELATED: Check the latest forecast as it develops here.
As rain falls, flood chances increase

Thursday's outlook

Severe weather development is possible on both of these days.

Follow Storm Shield Meteorologist Jason Meyers via the Storm Shield app on twitter, @StormShieldApp and Facebook . Download the Storm Shield Weather Radio App for your iPhone or Android device and get severe weather alerts wherever you are.

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