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Wild weather of April

These photos show Brandenburg a few days after the April 1974 tornado struck. John Hardin, Marion, took these shots from 215 High Street, where his grandparents’ house had been.
These photos show Brandenburg a few days after the April 1974 tornado struck. John Hardin, Marion, took these shots from 215 High Street, where his grandparents’ house had been.
These photos show Brandenburg a few days after the April 1974 tornado struck. John Hardin, Marion, took these shots from 215 High Street, where his grandparents’ house had been.

The month when anything can happen

The old saying, “He’s your best friend but your worst enemy,” is how I would describe April in Kentucky. It’s the month that can bring us those first warm, beautiful days of spring, then insult us with horrendous weather. For outdoors folks, it’s a month to listen to weather forecasts and keep an eye on the sky because just about anything can happen, even record-setting snow accumulations.

That happened April 2-5, 1987, when a freak, devil incarnate of a storm buried eastern Kentucky under 1 to 3 feet of snow with 10-foot drifts in some places. The storm left 18,000 people without power.

April is a month when unstable air creates some nasty thunderstorms, too. On a sunny, warm day in late April years ago, I took my 8-year-old daughter, Miranda, with me to some of the wildest parts of Elkhorn Creek in Franklin County. I knew she would enjoy playing in the sand while I fished for smallmouth bass.

Forest on both sides of the bank left me with only a creek-wide view of the sky, blocking me from seeing a rapidly approaching severe thunderstorm. It was on top of us in nothing flat. I left my fishing gear behind, threw my daughter on my shoulders, and ran as fast as I could through dense forest as lightning struck all around us with bright flashes and deafening pops, meaning the lightning was way too close. We made it out but Miranda, now 25, still says that was one of the most frightening experiences of her life—all because Dad didn’t listen to the weather forecast.

April is notorious for tornadoes as well. The most violent Super Outbreak (by strength of tornadoes) in recorded history is one that thousands of Kentuckians remember. It was an 18-hour-long nightmare, April 3-4, 1974. A swarm of 148 tornadoes tore across the central and southeastern U.S.—including Kentucky. Thirty of the twisters were rated F4 or F5 on the Fugita Scale, with rotating wind speeds of up to 250 mph. Sadly, 319 people lost their lives.

I was 15 years old when I turned on the TV late in the afternoon of April 3 and saw something I’d never seen before—live news coverage. It was of a tornado tearing across Louisville. Thinking I should just check, I rushed to a window at our house in Green County to see what was happening outside. I noticed smoke from a barn fire a couple miles away, but why was the smoke moving across the landscape? To my shock, I realized it was a tornado. In one of the most surreal moments of my life, I was seeing two powerful tornadoes simultaneously, one on TV in Louisville and one right out my window.

It’s a month when we need to keep an ear to the forecast and an eye on the sky. In April, fury can come from the heavens.

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