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Anniversary of the Xenia, Ohio F5 Tornado

Updated on July 26, 2013

April 3, 1974 - 34 People Perished in One of the Worst F5 Tornadoes in History

April 3 is the anniversary of one of the worst F5 tornadoes in history. At 4:42 p.m.on April 3, 1974, this cataclysmic tornado ripped straight through the town of Xenia, Ohio. Of the 148 tornadoes that were produced by this super storm cell, the one that hit Xenia was the worst.

While many stories of this tornado exist, I want to tell the story of my father, who saw the tornado and the impact it had upon our family and the countless families in Ohio from that year on.

A tornado can strike anywhere and it is advisable that you are prepared for anything that can occur. It is too late to wait until afterwards. Don't think that it cannot happen to you.

Follow the story of the Xenia tornado below in photos, videos and stories of survivors.

Creative Commons Photo Credit

purple star
purple star

My Father, Charles C. Villars and the Xenia Tornado

April 3, 1974

I was 13 at the time. I was an outdoor kid and loved walking fields and looking up at the sky. While I knew of the existence of tornadoes, I never really thought about them. Heck, who cares unless it affects you, right?

I lived in Wilmington, Ohio and my father worked in Fairborn, Ohio at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. He got up early every day to drive to work and usually arrived home between 5-5:30pm. Because of the distance to work, my Father had a carpool and he always drove and had "riders" with him. I remember one in particular. He was a friend of my Father's named John Bright. John was the co-pilot in the car and was always in the front on the passenger side of the car.

My Father's drive to and from work, took him into the corporation of Xenia and then he would take a detour around the center of town because it saved time on the drive.

On his way home on April 3, 1974, he and his riders encountered the Xenia Tornado. I can remember him telling us that he saw it getting ready to cross the road directly in front of their path and heading straight into into Xenia. He and his riders were unsure what direction that it was going to turn or continue the way it looked like it was heading. My Father, always owned American Motors cars and at the time, he had a 6 cylinder AMC Sportabout. That particular model wasn't known for speed and my Father told us that he had the pedal to the floor.

They took a chance and continued to drive towards our hometown of Wilmington and played their cards right. When you see a tornado, you probably don't know which direction it is coming unless you stop and watch it and that may not be a good idea. By the time you try to get away, you could be taken up into it. The path of the tornado was crossing the road directly in front of them and my Father accelerated until he got past it, hoping he could beat it before it crossed the road. The Xenia tornado then crossed the road behind them and directly into the town of Xenia. My Father said that John was on the passenger's side of the car pushing on the gas pedal to the floor and yelling "GO GO GO!", even though he wasn't driving and my Father thought he would push a hole through the floorboard. My father said that he saw it hit a greenhouse and the purple flower petals went up into it and the color of the tornado briefly turned purple.

When my Father arrived home, the television went on and we all went out in the yard to look up into the sky. My father had developed a fear that another one would hit our hometown.

From that point on in my life, I remember my Father going into the yard every time the conditions were right for a tornado. If there was a tornado watch or warning, we would all go into the basement of our home. Living on a hill, we would probably be a victim before lower elevation homes.

That day, there were 148 tornadoes across the tri-State area. We had heard, although I have never seen this anywhere else, that the tornado actually picked up the Xenia courthouse and tilted it from it's foundation. I have never confirmed this.

We were not victims that day but many were. After the Xenia, Tornado, many cities built alarms and ways to help save lives.

I will never forget that day and it was a bigger part of my Father's memories before he passed away.

Tornado Forming Before it Strikes Xenia - April 3, 1974

xenia tornado
xenia tornado

The Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974

Have you ever seen the movie "The Perfect Storm?" This would be the best term to define what happened on April 3, 1974.

The tornado outbreak of April 3rd and April 4th 1974 resulted in a culmination of 148 tornadoes in thirteen states. I am relating the story of Xenia in this website but across the USA, there were 315 fatalities and over 6,000 were injured. More than 27,000 families lost property during this outbreak.

Other than the largest in Xenia, there were 12 other tornadoes in Ohio killing two other than the 34 that were killed in Xenia. The photo progression that you see in this website shows the touchdown of the tornado at approximately nine miles outside of Xenia. From the touchdown, it only took 10 minutes to reach Xenia. Of the 27,000 who had property damage, there were 300 homes demolished, nine churches and the majority of schools in the town, 7 of 12. Obviously, school had already let out or the casualty rate would've been higher.

The tornado was so powerful, it picked up a freight train that was traveling through town and scattered it throughout downtown, blocking the main streets. In the audio file below, you can hear the train horn blowing. The train tracks were never rebuilt after the tornado.

Other than the fatalities, over 1,300 were treated for injuries and countless others were affected by the damage and power outages.

The tornado was an F5, the most powerful possible tornado with 300 mile per hour winds. It is one of the largest ever recorded before or since.

Xenia was struck again in 1989 and 2000. I don't think I'll be moving there anytime soon.

"I've never seen anything like it and never want to see it again."

Unknown Survivor

The Xenia, Ohio Tornado from a Distance - The darkness of the tornado is debris that the tornado picked up.

xenia tornado
xenia tornado

Video of the Xenia, Ohio Tornado

What Are Tornadoes? - National Geographic - A wonderful book for a child to learn about this force of nature

Tornado!: The Story Behind These Twisting, Turning, Spinning, and Spiraling Storms (National Geographic Kids)
Tornado!: The Story Behind These Twisting, Turning, Spinning, and Spiraling Storms (National Geographic Kids)

This book is an excellent gift for a child that needs to learn about tornadoes and the danger that they can cause. If not to understand beforehand, they will definitely be interested if they hear about one that actually occurred on the news.

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The Tornado Strikes Xenia, Ohio - April 3, 1974

xenia tornado
xenia tornado

"That was a wild, sad, day, one of my former students from Loveland was killed in Xenia as the tornado threw her against a wall."

Unknown Survivor

Xenia, Tornado - April 3, 1974 - This housing area was wiped out

xenia tornado
xenia tornado

Tornado Preparation Kits and Information - Be prepared and safe during tornado season

More Xenia, Ohio Tornado Video - This video gives you chills. I don't think I would be standing this close.

Actual 1974 Tornado Warnings from the Radio in Xenia, Ohio

"At least one freight car was tossed into or onto a nearby furniture factory. One account says the engineer was sounding warning blasts on the air horns as he watched the approaching storm."

Unknown Survivor

"It's the worst disaster I've ever seen."

Richard Nixon

Preparing for a Natural Disaster - The time is now!

Survive Yours: Preparation Guide for Natural Disasters
Survive Yours: Preparation Guide for Natural Disasters

Natural disasters can occur in most any region in the United States. You should be prepared during these times and prevention should be the focus, instead of reaction. This is a good book to help you prepare for most types of natural disasters. You don't need to go to the extreme as the Doomsday people and this book will help you prepare.

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Aftermath of the Xenia Tornado

xenia tornado
xenia tornado

The Xenia Tornado on Radio, WHIO Television, Channel 7

F5 Tornadoes in the United States 1950-2012

xenia tornado
xenia tornado

"In the heavens, a storm of an overwhelming magnitude was forming. Children went to school, people went to work and lives went on as normal until the second worst storm of the 1900's struck."

Unknown Survivor

Xenia Tornado Survivors React to Tornadoes

32 Who Lost Their Lives During the Xenia, Tornado, April 3, 1974 and 2 Who Lost Their Life in the Aftermath - The Xenia, Ohio Tornado Memorial

xenia tornado
xenia tornado

Photo by Author of Website

The Xenia, Ohio Tornado Aftermath

Please Share Your Tornado Stories - I would love to hear them!

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    • tvyps profile image
      Author

      Teri Villars 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      @vineliner57: I have a friend on Facebook that was right in the middle of the subdivision that got hit the hardest. He had just left school. He is now entranced with anything "tornado," as am I.

    • vineliner57 profile image

      Hal Gall 4 years ago from Bloomington, IN

      I was 16 and living in Northern Indiana when this storm cell went through. Although it didn't cause as much damage as in Xenia, it did take out an abandoned school and caused a lot of property damage in the area. I still remember the sky turning all kinds of strange colors right before the storms hit!

    • tvyps profile image
      Author

      Teri Villars 4 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      @anonymous: Tornadoes are very dangerous. I remember all the last days of my Father's life, peering up at the sky or looking out the window. Thank you for visiting, whoever you are!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      wow :(

      i feel terribily bad for the people who lost loved ones that day. i have been through one tornado in tennessee. i was very little at the time. i don't remember much of it but what i do know is that it was strong enough to pick up my grandpa's truck and uproot a tree in our front yard. it was a scary time. my friend chloe was in joplin when the joplin tornado hit and she is still upset about it. we try not to speak about it. she lost her grandparents there. my friend Zach also went through the april 16th 1998 tornado. i am still in shock of saddness for people who went through the tornadoes of joplin and tuscaloosa. very sad.

      since my tornado experience, i am been fasinated by tornadoes. my friends call me "tornado chick" because of my knowledge of tornadoes. GREAT SITE :)

      RIP all tornado victims :(

    • tvyps profile image
      Author

      Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      @Jason Sositko: I know. There is an eerie presence there, especially in April and May during tornado season.

    • profile image

      Jason Sositko 5 years ago

      It truly is a small world, I am at this moment in Xenia Ohio in a McDonald's Parking lot. I was only 3 years old at the time of that tornado outbreak. but it is still in the public consciousness almost 40 years later.

    • tvyps profile image
      Author

      Teri Villars 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      @floppypoppygift1: It is scary stuff. I have been in several storms while growing up that turned into tornadoes. This is why I no longer live in the Midwest!

    • floppypoppygift1 profile image

      floppypoppygift1 5 years ago

      I was around a tornado area in Colorado Springs when I was 9 years old. We were driving on a freeway and had to pull to the side. Lightning was striking all around us & the road ahead was a solid grey mass with the hardest rain I have ever seen. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life! Cheers~cb

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      This is so sad and frightening, but beautifully written. Congratulations on your well-deserved Purple Star. Blessings.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      ...and congratulations on that very well deserved purple star!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Whew! I had to turn the sound off so I couldn't heart the tornado because I was starting to feel anxious. An excellent and in depth review of the Xenia tornado, definitely something that one would never forget. Congratulations for being included with the Best of Squidoo Silly Celebrations Monster Board!

    • KateHonebrink profile image

      KateHonebrink 5 years ago

      An F4 tornado destroyed half of my hometown in MN in the mid-1990s. It was as if a bomb went off - there was nothing left.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 5 years ago from Arkansas USA

      I remember the Xenia tornado very well. I lived in Columbus at the time. That was a horrible year for tornadoes and we had a few smaller ones in our area that spring. I remember going to the basement one afternoon when I saw one in the distance and watching it through the basement window. Although it was a few miles away, I saw it dip down and debris fly up. Found out later it had hit a trailer park. We didn't even get a drop of rain that day. The feel of the atmosphere and the greenish sky that precedes a tornado is something you never forget - and that you'd better not ignore. So thankful your dad and friends got past the big tornado in time.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      Learning about tornadoes is interesting.