The Lubbock Tornado, Fifty Years Later

May 11, 2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the deadly F5 tornado that devastated Lubbock Texas. Prior to COVID-19 times, the Southwest Collection had planned a symposium entitled “The Lubbock Tornado, Fifty Years Later” that would have explored weather, history, and culture on the South Plains. Two full days of over thirty-five speakers would have discussed initial recovery efforts, art and music born out of the disaster, the history of and research from the National Wind Institute, the memorial gateway project, and reexaminations of the tornado itself.

At this point, most memorial-ization events across the city have been postponed to 2021, including the dedication of the aforementioned memorial gateway project. We have penciled in May 7-8, 2021 for our symposium’s rescheduled date. If this become untenable, we hope at least that our presenters will write up their talks so that we can provide a digital repository. The Southwest Collection’s goal has always been to preserve the history of this milestone Lubbock weather event. Regardless of the end medium or venue, we will continue that mission.

This week and next, in the absence of the symposium, the memorial dedication, and general gatherings to commemorate the lives lost and forever changed by this weather event, we wanted to highlight some of the Southwest Collection holdings that can assist researchers.

First, please check out a previous blog postthat covers many of our holdings, along with a specific write up on the Ted Fujita papers.

Lubbock AJ Photos

Prior to our building shut down in late March, photos from the immediate aftermath of the May 1970 tornado from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal were added to our dspace. Some of these images are black and white versions of images found in the Lubbock Tornado picture book published in June 1970.


Downtown business Fields & Company was hit especially hard by the 1970 Lubbock tornado. “Image 128- Fields Building”


Oral Histories

As might be expected, the Lubbock tornado was a frequent topic of discussion in oral history interviews. This author (our AV Unit Manager) is currently writing a history of the oral history documentary efforts done in the aftermath of the tornado (which was to be presented at the symposium). Abstracts of interviews have been grouped together here:

Many of our recently transcribed interviews also discuss the tornado. Check out our dspace and search for “tornado.” One example is Andy Wilkinson’s 2014 interview with Heenan Johnson, who was part of the disaster committee and city rebuilding efforts.

Image_36_Untitled_image_of_tornado_damage_1970_05_11 - Copy.jpg

Looking out of a downtown building, tangled blinds, and broken windows. “Image 36- Untitled image of tornado damage,”

Other Research and Reports

One thing that our symposium and exhibit sought to highlight was the research efforts that grew out of the Lubbock tornado disaster. The National Wind Institute, for example, began when Texas Tech scientists authored a damage investigation of the tornado (a hard copy is available in our Reading Room). Other reports are available online:

“A Report on the Lubbock Tornado” was produced by the city of Lubbock and presented in October 1970 by Mayor James Granberry

“The Economics of Federal Disaster Relief: Lubbock, Texas, A Case Study” was written in 1972 for the city by Texas Tech College of Business Administration faculty

Also a quick search of our Texas Tech theses and dissertation digital repository can highlight the immense research students have done in the past 50 years in various avenues of wind science, disaster preparedness, engineering, etc.

The city of Lubbock and the National Wind Institute also has more scanned documents and reports.

Finally, we want to mention that on May 18th, PBS’s American Experience will premiere “Mr. Tornado,” a documentary on Ted Fujita. The documentary film crew spent extensive time in our Reading Room, and worked a great deal with our reference staff.


More on Texas Tech and the tornado in next week’s blog post.


“For Rent – no pets-” Found in the AJ photos were many examples of humor that Lubbock citizens exhibited even in the midst of sheer and utter devastation. “Image 70- Ridge Road”



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