Saturday marks the 43rd anniversary of the Lubbock F-5 tornado. The storm on May 11, 1970 killed 26 and injured more than 1,500 in a winding track that started near 19th Street and University Avenue, looped from downtown back west toward Jones Stadium, through the Guadalupe neighborhood and eventually lifted around the airport.
It was the second tornado of the day in Lubbock. Additionally, according to the National Weather Service Lubbock office, 10,000 vehicles were damaged or destroyed and 119 aircraft at the airport were demolished. 8,800 homes were damaged or destroyed, 600 apartments demolished, 250 businesses damaged or destroyed, and an esimated 80 percent of all plate glass window downtown was broken. Tornado damage covered about 15 square miles.
It was a historic and well-documented tornado not just to our area, but for weather research with global impacts. Dr. Ted Fujita from the University of Chicago studied the aftermath. This work, in part, led to the Fujita Scale, which ranks tornadoes based on damage. F-5 is the top of the scale. He also used information gathered in Lubbock to develop the theory that some tornadoes contain more than one vortex.
The tornado was the impetus for creating a world-renowned institute for wind and atmospheric research at Texas Tech. This facility was recently re-named the National Wind Institute.
Meteorologically, the storm was unique in that it developed on a retreating dry line. This is the boundary that separates dry air to the west and humid air to the east, something that we often see in the spring in West Texas. As the dry line advances west during the day it can help form thunderstorms. It's rarer for storms to form when the dry line retreats in the evening or at night. It's even rarer for a tornado to be produced.
The National Weather Service Lubbock office has a much more comprehensive account of the storm, its damage, the weather setup and lessons learned here