Once Upon a Time in Lubbock — May 11, 1970
This was the single worst weather event in the history of Lubbock. I have heard MANY stories over the years about the impact of the tornado along with some of the unique outcomes, including straws embedded in telephone poles and necks cut cleanly off whiskey bottles.
Of course, we can't forget that 26 people were killed in this tragic event.
KFYO was a big part in getting out information to the public. But we also need to remember the part that Ernesto Barton, former publisher of the West Texas Hispanic News and current owner of KEJS Radio, played.
While Bob Nash and the KFYO News team were covering the situation in English, Barton was relaying the information in Spanish to the Hispanic community in Lubbock. KFYO, Bud Andrews and Ernesto Barton received commendations from then-President Richard Nixon for their work in covering the event.
Here is a minute-by-minute account from The National Weather Service:
7:45 pm: The Lubbock radar detected a moderate thunderstorm 10 miles south of the Lubbock Airport near southern city limits; thunderstorm increasing in intensity.
7:50 pm: Severe Thunderstorm Warning Bulletin until 9:00 pm for Lubbock, Crosby, eastern Hale, and Floyd counties transmitted. Emergency Action Notification Signal (EANS) requested. Long form of Severe Thunderstorm Warning Bulletin with specific details sent near 8:00 pm. Also, Civil Defense was given warning by telephone. The switchboard operator was requested to notify Mr. Payne, the Civil Defense Director.
7:59 pm - Radio Station KFYO used EANS to alert other radio and television stations that a special warning message is coming over the network. No "commercials" given by KFYO from this time until 7:30 am, May 14th.
8:10 pm: Funnel cloud, associated with the first tornado, reported by an off-duty policeman 7 miles south of the airport. Also, golf ball- to grapefruit- size (4.00 inch diameter) hail was reported from Lubbock Downs (about 2 to 3 miles south of city limits). Lubbock WBO checked with Amarillo radar personnel on severe storm just south of Lubbock and found that cloud tops had increased to 55,000 ft. Additionally, another Severe Weather Statement transmitted reiterating the warning and advising of grapefruit-size hail 5 miles south of the city.
8:13 pm: Baseball-size hail reported by the public in southeast Lubbock.
8:15 pm: Tornado Warning Bulletin issued until 9:00 pm for Lubbock, western Crosby, eastern Hale, and Floyd counties transmitted on the Weather Wire. The warning noted the funnel cloud report along with a hook echo developing in that same location on the Lubbock WBO Weather Service Radar (WSR)-1 radar, apparently moving northeastward. The warning was transmitted on the weather wire and relayed by phone to the Civil Defense Director.
8:30 pm: First tornado touches down near Broadway and Quirt Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd) on the east side of town.
8:33 pm: Baseball-size hail reported to the Lubbock WBO by the public about 5 miles south of the airport.
8:40 pm: Severe Thunderstorm Watch Bulletin Number 225 issued by the national Severe Storms Forecast Center (NSSFC) for all of the South Plains valid until 2:00 am CDT Tuesday morning.
8:42 pm: Severe Weather Statement issued by Lubbock WBO included numerous reports of large hail reported in Lubbock area in past 30 minutes. The WSR-1 radar indicated hook at 8:40 pm, 5 miles south-southeast of the airport.
8:59 pm: Tornado Warning Bulletin continued for persons in Lubbock, western Crosby, southern Floyd, and southern Hale counties valid until 10:00 pm.
9 pm: A small tornado takes a roof off a barn located about 8 miles north of Crosbyton.
9:05 pm: Texas DPS informed Lubbock WBO of golf ball-size hail about 6 miles southeast of the airport.
9:08 pm: Public reported to Lubbock WBO baseball-size hail at Holiday Inn East and Mackenzie State Park about 4 miles south of the airport.
9:14 pm: Bulletin issued advising of latest radar report, recent reports of large hail in the Lubbock area, and reiterating the continuation of the tornado warning.
9:15 pm: Lubbock WBO advised the Texas DPS in Lubbock to notify Idalou police (10 miles east of Lubbock) to sound tornado warning.
9:30 pm: Lubbock WBO advised the Shallowater Fire Department by telephone of severe storm 5 miles south of their area.
9:31 pm: 2.00 inch diameter hail observed at the Lubbock Airport.
9:35 pm: Second larger and more destructive tornado touches down near 19th Street and University Avenue. The Lubbock WBO WSR-1 radar indicated a tornado about 7 miles southwest of the airport near 19th and Brownfield highway. This information was relayed by two-way radio and telephone to Civil Defense. Sirens were sounded at 9:35 pm (this was the time that a patrolman reported a funnel in this part of the city). Also, the Texas Zone Forecasts for Lubbock and vicinity are issued, including the severe thunderstorm watch. The remainder of the amended forecast was going to be issued after 10:00 pm, but because of the tornado hitting downtown Lubbock, loss of communications at 9:49 pm prevented transmission.
9:46 pm: Power failure at Civil Defense Headquarters.
9:47 pm: The last communications between Lubbock WBO and Lubbock Civil Defense reported that "hooks" were indicated on radar around 9:45 pm about 5 miles southwest of the airport.
9:49 pm: Lubbock WBO lost all communications. Power to the WSR-1 radar failed when the emergency generator died.
9:55 pm: Lubbock WBO personnel abandoned the WBO to take cover from the approaching tornado.
10 pm: 77 knot wind recorded at the Lubbock Airport.
10:03 pm: Second tornado passed over the Lubbock WBO.
10:10 pm: Lubbock WBO, using the two-way Lubbock Fire Department radio, relayed tornado warnings to the Abernathy, new Deal, and Petersburg areas. Sirens were sounded in Petersburg at an unknown time. Tornado warning was valid until 11:00 pm and included Lubbock, western Crosby, southern Hale, and southern Floyd counties. Message relayed by Fire Department operator.
Here is a re-enactment from The National Weather Service. (*Note: This Film Is In The Public Domain and is used under Creative Commons*)