The Sherwood Shores Tornado Outbreak

| April 17, 2009 @ 10:30 pm | 6 Replies

On the morning of Friday, April 17, 1970, a strong upper low was crashing onshore in California. Ahead of the low, a broad upper trough was across the southern Plains. At the Weather Bureau office in Lubbock, Texas, Meteorologist Johnny Gray knew it was going to be a busy evening. As he tracked a dangerous looking storm on radar in the Plains/Tatum area, he knew that he needed to warn the town of Whiteface. He dialed the first number on an index card that listed key contacts in the town of 850 people. He got a recording saying the number was not in service. He dialed the second number, and also got the same recording. Johnny Graham’s phone numbers were wrong.

In Whiteface, the high school senior class was performing their play, appropriately named “Lights Out.” At 8:50 p.m., as the performance was well underway, a tremendous sound was heard, followed by a powerful suction that took people’s breaths away. The lights went out and the windows crashed in. The people at the play had not gotten the warning. Thirty people were injured. The tornado roared on to Whitharral where it destroyed a high school gym where a volleyball game was being held. The fans and players were evacuated in the nick of time just before the twister hit.

About fifty miles to the northwest, another supercell storm produced a tornado near Lazbuddie that killed one woman. Lubbock was dealing with two tornadic supercells. The second storm would produce tornadoes all the way to Pampa, in the Texas Panhandle. At the same time, the first supercell was producing an F4 tornado that did heavy damage at Cotton Center and roared across the town of Plainview, where a tornado drill was planned for the very next morning. This twister killed five people.

To the south of Pampa was the Sherwood Shores Trailer Park. The park was located in a beautiful spot on the Greenbelt Reservoir about four miles south of the town of Clarendon. About 150 people were staying at the park that night. Many had gone to bed, but some had been tracking the tornado near Pampa on the radio. Mr. W.T. Robertson, his wife and another couple were concerned enough to leave their trailer when they heard of the Pampa storm. After this tornado lifted, the Lubbock Weather Bureau issued an all clear. The atmosphere seemed to be stabilizing and the event appeared to be over. Mr. Robertson and his group headed back to their trailer and put on a pot of coffee.

Near Clarendon, storm cellars were a common sight. The Osborn family had already been to their storm cellar once that night. When they got the all clear, they went back to their home. They hadn’t been inside long when they heard the harrowing freight train sound of a tornado. They raced back to the shelter, but the tornado caught them outside. Mr. Osborn threw himself over his 15 year old daughter Judy, saving her life. He perished.

A few miles away, as Mr. Robertson, his wife and guests waited for the coffee to get hot, they also heard the tornado. There was nowhere for them to go. His wife was and the other couple were killed as the mobile home was torn to shreds.

The Sherwood Shores Resort was home to about one thousand mobile homes. One hundred and seventy two trailers were destroyed that fateful night. Thirteen people died in Sherwood Shores. A total of twenty three people perished in the tornadoes.

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About the Author ()

Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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