Prior to April 3, 1974, warnings about severe weather just weren’t that big of a deal. That afternoon, I was hanging out with junior high friends over at Iroquois High School. I remember how weird it was as the funnel that hit the Fairgrouds passed over Iroquois Hill. I went ahead and rode my bike home shortly afterward.
It seems most people were oblivious to the fact that the worst tornado outbreak on record was getting ready to hit town. There was a lot of heroism in the media, and much has changed since in the way weather gets reported. Here’s a piece of what is on record at Wikipedia:
Dick Gilbert, a helicopter traffic reporter for radio station WHAS-AM, followed the tornado through portions of its track including when it heavily damaged the Louisville Water Company’s Crescent Hill pumping station, and gave vivid descriptions of the damage as seen from the air. A WHAS-TV cameraman also filmed the tornado when it passed just east of the Central Business District of Louisville.
WHAS-AM broke away from its regular programming shortly before the tornado struck Louisville and was on-air live with John Burke, the chief meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Louisville office at Standiford Field when the tornado first descended. The station remained on the air delivering weather bulletins and storm-related information until well into the early morning hours of April 4. As electrical power had been knocked out to a substantial portion of the city, the radio station became a clearinghouse for vital information and contact with emergency workers, not only in Louisville but across the state of Kentucky due to its 50,000-watt clear-channel signal and the fact that storms had knocked numerous broadcasting stations in smaller communities, such as Frankfort, off the air. Then-Governor Wendell Ford commended the station’s personnel for their service to the community in the time of crisis, and Dick Gilbert later received a special commendation from then-President Richard Nixon for his tracking of the tornado from his helicopter.
Ask anyone who was here then and you’re likely to get a good story. Maybe some of you readers will share your memories here.