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Jeremy Kappell
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Stories from '74: John Gordon - Louisville NWS

John Gordon, Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service office in Louisville recalls what he was doing on April 3, 1974 and describes the epic changes that have occurred within the weather enterprise since The Super Outbreak - The Day Weather Changed Forever..

Hodgenville.  Then I went to Clarkson. Come back very late. Too many hours. Two days later, boom anyway. You ready? I'm ready. You're gonna go back to April 1st, April 3rd, 1974. You wanna talk about April 1st first, real quick. OK, so April 3rd, 1974, I was a young boy in Western New York watching the weather. OK, I knew I was gonna be a meteorologist. In the 70s you had the Johnstown fund, the Edmund Fitzgerald, the big. You had the the blizzards of 78. 00:37 And then of course you have the big one, the Super outbreak of 1974. It changed everything profoundly in weather.

So where was I? Was there watching tornadoes? Or was it Tornado Blair? Not Western New York and Jamestown, NY? Unheard of. And I'm hearing reports in Monticello IN and Louisville and Guinn Alabama and Zenia, albeit lots of tornadoes on the ground. So let's talk about the event so April 1st. 1974 we had a big outbreak that day, which would be noteworthy except that April 3rd is 4th it, right? So 01:10 what happened is the dryline moved east? The dryline there in Oklahoma and Nebraska and Kansas actually went east. So you have a strong dewpoint gradient, lot of surface heating up, really warm that day and you had what's called a couple jet streams in other words you get double, your forcing not just one, you get two. So everything just exploded massively just from basically east of the Mississippi River for the sake of arguement. And as the afternoon went off in the evening, at one time there was probably 35 to 40 tornadoes on the ground. Which is just you know, I I can't describe how how norm that is and they were long trackers. So the Louisville tornado was actually the beginning of the Brandenburg tornado was the Louisville tornado, though the Brandenburg tornado was an F5 of only the only one really in the state of Kentucky. And that one lifted it, and circulated, regenerated and happened to happen at the fairgrounds. 2:05

The Weather Service in 1974 was actually in the surface observation. They take it at the old airport “tornado”, with a distance and a movement. Very unusual to see a tornado in the observation just off the charts. And then it kept going and went into the Highlands. It went into just all across devastation here in Louisville. And not too long later, Zenia happened, Sayler Park and Daisy Hill and all these other places. So I'll tell you a little bit about what changed, OK? So when you 02:37 in 74 they had a model it would seem favorite TV weather person, one model K1 we had coloring pencils. We used to analyze and plot all those observations, none of that computer stuff. We had faxed charts. We had a dark radar room where he was basically vacuum tube, your favorite vacuum cleaner, vacuum tube radar, and. It's things that look like this, these little hooks and they started to see hook formation tornado what mediately cause every saw what had been happening in Indiana and Illinois, Tennessee and the Deep South that's got obliterated. And so they would extrapolate movement of these storms and issue per active warnings back in 74 the lead time attorney warnings was terrible 0 to one minute 74. Once that thing got going they were getting 20, 20-30 minute lead times because they knew it was going to go.

So when you have. The height of the clouds kind of low to the ground when you have strong surfacing, when you have upper lower exhaust mechanism all at the same time, it's not going to be good. And you saw what happened, over 300 people were killed. ..74 so you have retold open your windows which is totally idiot, right. Do not always a pressure and that's why you open the windows and we don't we don't do that anymore right. We 03:53 we have the weather radio program that came out of 74. We have a way to get communities more weather resilient weather ready nation concept, all these things. What's that for the model The Doppler weather radars came up 74. They realized this. We need to be able to look at storms so they can now have now we see storms horizontally, vertically and motion to and from the radar and all these things, they didn’t have that in 74, they had nothing. 04:16

It's like being. It's like going from Abraham Lincoln to the Today you know it's just. It's so different than today and a lot of people. We'll never forget this day. OK, Can you speak specifically to this market right here, like it’s pretty much the epicenter… Yeah. Yeah, I can't imagine the TV coverage, what it would been, I mean. In Louisville, So Louisville, as you said, was the epicenter. When I think of 74, I think of Dick Gilbert. So he was way ahead of his time. He's like, you know, Nostradamus, So that Gilbert ever gonna be doing the traffic report, Well, guess what was happening? He broadcasted live. So that gave people impetus to do the Chaser concept kind of came out of that, right? Because Nick Gilbert has opened his helicopter broadcasting live as of the Tornadoes in the fairgrounds. So to your question, we have all these tornadoes in southern Indiana, big ones, long trackers, violent tornadoes. Why? To be able to broadcast that to the people. I can't imagine doing it today. So today, 2012, right? Yeah, Henryville, we had one main tornado. There was a second that came out of it. There was one main tornado. Picture Henryville. Five or six of them. So you just can't spend all the time on one store, right? Henryville. Here's the Henryville store. Here's no We got Madison, we got Louisville, we got Brandenburg, we got Daisy Hill, We got Borden. And we got all these communities. Campbellsville, we got all these communities with tornadoes on the ground.06:07 It's incomprehensible to try to relate that in a market. Good. He really was.. I don't think he knew he was the first storm chaser. He was..

They logged me out, let me log in. Stupid thing. Ohh, it's so annoying. I don't think you can. If you can, I'll buy you dinner. And just every time I work, the darn thing times me out. 10 minutes, Jeremy. Can you give me back? I don't have any. I'm the head janitor. Never have never lost the top monitors. You. Clear it is. Pain didn't just unreal. We have so much IT security, Jeremy. I can't tell you how much IT security we have. Everything we try to do, there's a reason to not do it. 16. Ohh yeah yeah. I have more passwords than anybody in this office. It's not pretty. There we go. Thanks Chase. Was that your call time during shot? Yeah, when you hear start here, beep, beep, beep. It's never good. I like the beep, beep beep. We'll talk about.

Do you remember the? Yes, yes. But it's in the top three. The thing about it, am I wrong? Is still the longest track tornadoes Monticello? Just the state of Indiana's record, yes, for sure. They feel was just this state, tri-state still the record. One of the best talks I ever saw was an 05 or 06 at the end of it. Three retirement. Was one. Remember, there are two. Family homesteads from Missouri. Through. And they talked to people who went and they believe it's continuous. Thanks. Yes. Yeah. Original. National School of this. And then I read. Synoptic report. Right. Yeah. So let's look at 74 first. So we got Indiana, the most pro.. the most prolific event in terms of the number of high level tornadoes, right. Same thing in Kentucky, you know a lot of events we get here, F0F0 ones and twos. A lot of threes, a ton of fours and a couple of fives, right? So that just shows you the scope. It's a five hundred year event. And The thing is, a lot of outbreaks are just concentrated on the Ohio Valley. This one was the Tennessee Valley, the Ohio Valley, the Deep South. Into the Appalachians. So the the scope of this event is truly the only other event that comes close to this is the one that happened in 2011 the the Tuscaloosa then if you will, the Deep South event. The same. We do more surveys now than they did back then, right? So we there could have been a few that we missed in 74 quite honestly, even with fujitas work. We weren't doing zeros back then. We had one through 5. I don't remember what zero started. Know when they started, but it wasn't in 74. Never seen before. Profiling on interactive. The changes.. Yeah, too many people died in1974 338, a lot of people injured, maimed forever changed, lost their houses, lost everything they had. So the Weather Service has escalated preparedness with our partners in the media, right? So my job is to try to tell people I use a lot of weather history when I go talk to groups. People, I was never gonna be a tornado. Let's use the example of 2012. OK, 2012. Ohh, we don't get tornadoes in Eastern Kentucky. How are they get tornadoes? We don't get them. The mountains protect us, blah blah blah. While West Liberty and Salyersville, those things went up and down those mountains and beat the living heck out of that. Right.12:07 So we try to do a lot of preparedness, a lot of education. We have this weather ready nation concept where we help communities become storm ready to be better prepared to receive warnings. And not just on the weather radio, but on your phone or private service or whatever your TV to get away, to get your but out of bed the middle of the night. We've had too many late night. That's like Mayfield lately. It happened after dark in the cool season, and we want you to have a plan with her at soccer at the grocery store. You're at your home. What are you going to do? The thing about 74 is the wings were pretty darn good for not much technology in 1974. They were pretty darn good. And bad. And we still lost close to 400 people. OK, so. I was looking into F5 frequency. Can you speak a little bit to that? And we have not seen since 2013.. Ohh, my gosh, Sound frequency. When I was started, 1% of all tornadoes are a 5. So it's not 1% it's it's less, it's less than 1%. 13:23 We are way overdoing this nation for a large violent tornado where way, way, way, so surveys, we have what's called the quick response team to look at tornadoes. And because there's been a couple of areas in the past, we don't wanna put out a tornado that's inaccurate. So we have the biggest thing for fujita, the F scale, right? So in 2008, I think we went to the EF scale, the enhancement. So now we look at structural integrity. There's 28 damage indicators from houses to. Homes to trees to service, stations to apartments, whatever. And we look at the construction. You know, the nailing pattern, the clips, the braces, the supports, the anchor choices, all these types of things. And I can tell you the only reason I brought in engineers. That was unheard. Blown away that we took his amazing work, right? And then canceled it and used construction. He was only interested in one thing when. What was the speed? He did not look at mobile homes gone or could have been on blocks, you know? Come along ways for that too, but 14:35 the rareness of a 5. We keep expanding beyond the cities, right?  Louisville has gone way out. Right. Way out. Xenia, Dayton, way out. It's going to hit more than it's ever hit before because we just keep going out and out and out in the rural areas, so more people are going to get hit, not less, more.

 What what do you recommend? What are the things now that they? So you really want to get the weather? Radio helps. Private weathers companies will for like 4 or $5 a month wake you up. Call you on any phone you get. 10 phones. I'll call you on everyone to get you up. Have a way to receive warnings? More than one way. OK, two. Alright, the warnings out. You know what's out. What are you going to do? Do you know where to go in your house? Do you know if you're on the road what you would do? I want people to have a plan of action. To respond to the warnings. Warnings are improving. Public's response is like this. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. It's really better when you've had an event recently, right? But when you have an event, we haven't had a tornado in so many years or a big bow echo coming through. All times people have those other people don't know what they're doing. No, we really are trying to save you and save your life. We don't want you to have 1974 in Brandenburg and Louisville and Campbellsville and Bowling Green and so many other places. Excellent. Final thoughts John?  We're gonna have a 1974 band again. We're overdue for some time Outbreak I think when I think outbreaks of thought my head I think it's the Palm Sunday. I think it's 74. I think of the 2011 Tuscaloosa and I think of the coincidental one with Bowling Green and Mayfield. Over there, have a plan before the big one comes. Thank you. Glad you came out. You’re always welcome to come out here.


Jeremy Kappell

Meteorologist, Journalist, Writer, Speaker, Broadcaster

Previous Article Stories from '74: Brandenburg Mayor David Pace
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