The April 1974 Super Outbreak – My Story

On April 3, 1974, I was driving home from work in Old Hickory, TN to my home just south of Nashville. As I approached Murfreesboro Rd., a storm began to pelt my car with huge raindrops and hail. As I passed the crest of a hill, in the distance, I saw the unmistakable image of a funnel cloud.

The tornado approaches from the southwest. That’s the silhouette of our house on
                the right.
The tornado approaches from the southwest. That’s the silhouette of our house on the right.
Copyright Gerald W. am Ende

Having grown up in Iowa, my friends and I had always dreamt of getting pictures of the tornados that are fairly common in that Midwest state. But in the twelve years I’d spent in Iowa, I never came close to a tornado.

So, when I saw this storm in the distance, I rushed home, parked my car, grabbed my camera and exclaimed to my family… “There’s a tornado out there and I’m going to get a picture of it!” I ran outside only to find that the tornado that was once several miles away was now nearly on top of us! I snapped the picture with my house silhouetted next to the funnel cloud.

The tornado was “skipping” as it approached – although that’s not the most accurate description. I would have described it as growing wider and forming on the ground, followed by narrowing with the tip of the cone rising off the ground.

Suffice it to say I didn’t spend much time snapping pictures. I ran back into the house and alerted my wife and son of the approaching danger. Our house didn’t have a basement, but our neighbor’s house did. So, we ran next door, knocked on the door only to discover that no one has home. In retrospect, it was quite stupid not to break the window on basement door and let ourselves in. But in the hurry of events, weren’t thinking to clearly. We went back to our house and hurriedly opened as many windows as we could – the thought at the time was that the vacuum of the tornado caused pressure in the house to explode.

We could hear the tornado approaching. We would agree with those who describe the sound as that of a freight train – only much louder. Looking for a safe place, we tucked our 9 year old son under a heavy cast iron and slate coffee table. My wife and I squeezed into our brick fireplace.

After the “freight train” moved from the southwest of our location well the northeast, we exited our hiding place and went outdoors. We looked up to see the tornado had split into two (possibly three) separate funnels and was moving well to the northeast. During this time of scurrying about, I released I still had my camera in my hand, so I snapped a couple more photos.

Tornado splits into three funnels and dissipates.
Tornado splits into three funnels and dissipates.
Copyright Gerald W. am Ende

As we inspected our house and yard, we detected no damage, but the yard was strewn with kitchen counters, pieces of houses – all amongst hailstones slightly larger than golf balls.

By this time, our neighbors had exited their houses and gathered on the street. Remembering the way the approaching funnel cloud had been “skipping” as it approached, we assumed that it had skipped over our houses. After a few moments, someone exclaimed, “Look what happened down there!” While there was no damage to any of our houses, the next block down was devastated. Luckily, the area of destruction was almost all new construction – only one house was occupied and those people had not yet returned from work.

The area of damage was several hundred yards wide and was “vacuumed” clean by the storm. It was remarkable how “clean” the swath of the storm was – almost no damage to buildings and trees – 10 feet from total devastation. One of the pictures I took shows a house “cut in half” – one side standing and the other completely missing.

Within an hour or so of the storm’s passing, there was an eerie calm. The sun came out and shone bright gold as the dark storm clouds moved away.

The only injury I heard about was a neighbor – a block further from the storm than our house – saw the storm approaching and had a fatal heart attack.

Over the years, I’ve told and retold this story to anyone who would listen, but have never “published” it in any media.

Gerald W. am Ende

A split-level house cleanly cut in half. New Contruction leveled to it's foundation.
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