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1970 Lubbock Tornado Kills 26; Injures Over 1,500
Aftermath of the May 11, 1970 Lubbock Tornado (City of Lubbock Photo)

1970 Lubbock Tornado Kills 26; Injures Over 1,500

By NWS Heritage Projects Editorial Staff

Editor’s Note: The following article is based largely on information compiled by the NWS Weather Forecast Office in Lubbock, Texas. See “Additional Reading” below for links to source material.


On the evening of May 11, 1970, a devastating tornado struck Lubbock, Texas. One of two that struck the west Texas city that night, the tornado touched down around 9:30 p.m. southwest of downtown and moved northeast, causing terrible damage along its path. It killed 26 people and injured more than 1,500 along its 8.5 mile track, while covering about 15 square miles of Lubbock. 

The tornado caused extensive damage to the northeast side of Lubbock and resulted in estimated at approximately $250 million, or about $1.7 billion in today’s dollars. While no known photographs of the tornado exist, in part due to it occurring at night, newspaper photos from the day documented the devastation. 

The Lubbock tornado was a catalyst for additional research into severe weather. The study of the meteorological data from the event in combination with an extensive damage survey completed in the aftermath was used in the development of the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale in 1971 by Dr. Ted Fujita. The storm earned an F5 rating, the highest possible. The F-scale was the de facto standard used to rank tornadoes by the amount of damage they inflict, until it was revised in 2007. 

The study of the damage patterns, especially from overhead with aerial photos, allowed Dr. Fujita to further develop his theory that some tornadoes contained more than one vortex (i.e., there were multiple vortex tornadoes). This was evident with the Lubbock tornado, where swaths of extreme damage were located immediately adjacent to locations of very light damage, all within the tornado path itself.

Interesting Facts:

  • 3.25 inches of precipitation was reported at the airport from all the rain and hail received

  • The second, most destructive tornado, was 1-1/2 miles wide early on, before narrowing to about 1/4 mile wide by the time it reached the airport

  • 10,000 automobiles were damaged or destroyed

  • 119 aircraft were demolished at the airport

  • Area of the tornado damage covered 15 square miles.

  • 600 apartment units were demolished, 250 businesses damaged or destroyed

  • 8,800 family units damaged, of which 430 were destroyed

  • In downtown Lubbock, an estimated 80% of all plate glass windows were smashed

Additional Reading:

The NWS Weather Forecast Office in Lubbock, TX has created an in-depth multi-media presentation describing the event, its meteorology, and its aftermath. It features first-person accounts, maps, a video, and links to additional information. https://arcg.is/1evbCD