Articles / 3 April 1974 Remembered

April 3rd, 1974

Cherokee Park
Cherokee Park, 5 April 1974

I remember April 3rd, 1974, vividly.

It was the last half of my final semester of high school (yes, I graduated high school way back in 1974!). Spring fever was rampant.

During my last class of the day, chemistry, I was gazing out the window as 3:00pm (quitting time) neared. I noticed ominous mammatocumulus on the underside of the anvil of an approaching thunderhead and commented to a classmate, “Somebody’s going to have a tornado today!”

I was a little concerned that afternoon, so I kept the radio on, tuned to WHAS-AM, while waiting for my parents to come home from work. Suddenly, around 4:45pm the traffic ’copter reporter, Dick Gilbert, broke in and exclaimed that a tornado had just passed over the airport and touched down at the Kentucky Fairgrounds and Exposition Center, ripping part of the roof off Freedom Hall (the main arena) and destroying some of the stables and barns. In just a few hours, a pro basketball game would have been played in Freedom Hall (the old Kentucky Colonels ABA team).

I was riveted as Dick Gilbert, the only one in a position to follow the tornado, continued his reports. The tornado tore into the Bardstown Road area and then through the beautifully wooded Seneca and Cherokee Parks.

For a “full” transcript of Dick Gilbert’s reports and the local radio anchors’ discussion, see www.april31974.com (2014 - sorry, that website appears to be offline now.)

One would think that someone who had spent his childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, where we spent many a night in the basement as the tornado sirens sounded, would be huddled in the basement by now, since the tornado was grinding its way toward the eastern suburbs where we lived.

Well, not so. I listened carefully as Dick Gilbert followed the tornado. It was staying to the west and north of our home… not by much, perhaps. I figured I would have time to reach the basement if I needed to (which was stupid of me, many people who think that are killed or seriously injured), so I ran the opposite direction I should have to see what I could see from the upstairs windows.

Cherokee Park
Cherokee Park (probably near Lexington Road), 5 April 1974

I don’t remember there being any discernable weather at all. It was not unusually windy. It wasn’t raining anymore, at least not very hard. It wasn’t even fully overcast. I could tell from the radio reports that the tornado was now north of us, in the Westport Road area, so I went to the north upstairs bedroom and peered out the window.

There it was in the distance. Extending from the base of an innocuous looking cloud was a massive, churning, dark cloud. There was no classic funnel cloud. This thing seemed huge, and it slowly churned slightly north of eastward now.

Based on where I was looking and the damage path map (below), I was watching as the tornado was churning through Indian Hills and the Indian Hills Cherokee Section two miles northeast of our house. That was as close as the 1974 Louisville Tornado came to me, as it arced through Louisville and headed up I-71 (the road to Cincinnati).

The tornado left a visible scar through Cherokee Park that lasted for at least twenty years. As recently as a couple of years ago, if you knew where to look (at the I-64 tunnel), you could still detect the difference — not in the height of the trees anymore, but now only in their girth and species.

I took the photos shown on this page with my little Kodak Instamatic as we surveyed the damage a couple of days later. They have been scanned from my 30+ year old prints. The originals were taken under cloudy conditions, the Northfield Subdivision one was taken at dusk; so I had to do a fair bit of processing in PaintShopPro to get them this presentable. It seems odd that I only have three photographs; some may have not come out at all and I may have only had a few shots left on a roll of 12. I don't know if my parents took any photographs with their Polaroid camera, but they have probably been lost if they did.

Northfield Subdivision
Northfield Subdivision, 5 April 1974 (near I-264 and I-70 interchange)

For more information about the Super Outbreak, particularly the Louisville Tornado, check out these websites:

  • www.april31974.com "April 3, 1974 — The Tornado Super Outbreak" by Scott Koerner. This was the most comprehensive website dedicated to this event I had found. It contained an interview with my "idol", WAVE-TV's meteorologist Tom Wills, and transcripts of the broadcasts of WHAS radio's traffic copter reporter, Dick Gilbert. Unfortunately, it now (2014) appears to be offline.
  • Wikipedia article
  • 40th Anniversary Page on the Louisville Weather Office's website. That page links to this one with more detail (including an audio recording of the radio broadcast on WHAS).

Fujita Damage Path Map
Map of the damage path of the Louisville Tornado, by Dr. Ted Fujita.
The red square (which I added) marks the location of our house.
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