The May 24, 1957 Tornado Outbreak
by Jonathan D. Finch

under construction
(rough draft form)

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                        A tornado outbreak occurred on May 24, 1957 from west eastern New Mexico into central Oklahoma. Like typical
                        plains tornadoes, the tornadoes on this date moved from southwest to northeast at around 30 mph. However, most
                        plains tornadoes, especially those on the high plains(elev.> 3000ft),  occur in the afternoon and evening. Some of 
                        these torndoes occurred in the morning which is highly unusual.

Sequence of Events

                        The first tornado on May 24, 1957(or at least the first documented tornado) skipped across Roosevelt county(west
                        and north of Clovis, NM) between 330 am and 430 am MST, destroying barns in this very rural area. The
                        elevation where this tornado or tornado family occurred was between 4400 and 4600ft.

                        There was a gap in reported tornadoes until 1110 am CST when tornadoes were reported 5 miles south of Bovina, 
                        TX(Parmer county) and northwest of Enochs, TX(Bailey county). The tornadic storm in Parmer county moved
                        northeast over mostly rural country to north of Amarillo, occasionally touching down.  Rural farm families were
                        huddled in storm cellars all across west Texas. This tornado swept away buildings on 8 farms near Friona resuilting
                        in $100,000 damage. The only injuries were in traffic accidents as funnels formed over Hereford. Homes were also
                        damaged near Black. The tornado northwest of Enochs moved east-northeast across Lamb county and into northern
                        Hale county but lifted before hitting Plainview. The most extensive damage with this tornado was around Olton
                        where 77 homes were destroyed in the south part of town. Southwest of Olton a car was thrown 1/2 mile. Homes
                        and  barns were torn apart north of Halfway, TX and livestock killed. Total damage was $650,000. Most of the path
                        of this tornado was across rural country. Those in the path of the storm were well warned and took shelter.

                        A tornado moved northeast across desolate areas of the Texas panhandle. At 1117 am, a tornado was spotter 20
                        miles northwest of Wildorado or between Boys Ranch and Vega. This tornado hit nothing. This tornado may have
                        started further southwest in desolate Deaf Smith county before 11 am.

                        The next tornado touched down in Lynn county with first damage near Tahoka around 1 pm. This tornado skipped
                        north-northeast. Roof damage occurred in Tahoka. Four homes were damaged in Wilson. Four homes were destroyed
                        in Slayton. At Savage, 12 homes were completely destroyed and many others damaged. The tornado family ended east
                        of Cone.

                        A tornado began in Hale county near Cotton Center around 130 pm. This tornado also dissipated before hitting
                        Plainview.  The tornado affected rural areas around Hale Center and ended just southwest of Plainview. A house
                        2 miles north of Cotton Center was moved 100 ft off its foundation and disentigrated. Three homes were unroofed
                        or torn apart at the end of this tornado(southwest of Plainview).

                        A tornado moved northeast from 8 miles west-northwest of Midland to the Lenora community between 2 pm and 
                        3 pm. Moving over rural country, 50 power poles were downed nw of Midland. Farm homes were reported as
                        destroyed 10 miles northwest of Stanton in southern Martin county. At Lenorah, 5 homes were hit with 1 destroyed.
                        A tornado touched down 10 miles nnw of Midland at 629 pm and moved over rural country. Another tornado
                        touched down just se of Midland around 630 pm and was reported again 15 miles east of Midland at 705 pm.
                        These tornadoes did not cause enough damage to be listed as significant tornadoes.

                        Funnels were seen near Vernon, TX from 350 pm to 410 pm. A tornado was reported from this storm in southwest Tillman              
                        county at 430 pm from this storm.

                        A tornado moved northeast from east of Apheatone(west of Walters) at 530 pm to 7 miles southeast of Lawton. Two
                        couples were killed as their homes were leveled to the ground. About 12 homes were destroyed. About 70 cows were
                        killed. A car was carried 100 yards into a pond.  This tornado began around 530 pm. The tornado was reported 5 miles
                        s of Lawton at 550 pm and was causing F4 damage at this time.  Several farms were completely destroyed.

                        A tornado moved north-northeast then due north from southwest of Winnewood to east of Pauls Valley to Wanette to
                        6 miles northwest of Macomb. The tornado was located 5 miles southwest of Winnewood at 603 pm, 14 miles east
                        of Pauls Valley at 640 pm and 710 pm at Wanette. This tornado was still visible at 725 pm.

                        Tornadoes were reported northwest of Seymour, TX at 815 pm and 20 miles north of Throckmorton, TX at 850 pm.

                        Tornadoes also occurred around Duncan, OK between 9 pm and 11 pm with F2 damage officially.                       


Synoptic Sequence of Events 

                        A tornado occurred in the Nebraska panhandle on May 19, 1957. Severe weather that day was aided by cold temps
                        at mid and upper levels along with marginal low level moisture in the southern and central plains. I must add that 
                        although moisture was marginal, moisture on the central high plains was very good for late May standards with
                        upper 50sF dewpoints as far west as Sidney and Scottsbluff, NE. However, the front barely made it through
                        Brownsville, TX early on May 19. By late on May 19, mid 70sF dewpoints were surging back through Brownsville.
                        The Gulf of Mexico was in equilibrium and from May 20 through May 24, gulf moisture would return unimpeded
                        into Texas. The Gulf of Mexico was not really open for business until May 20. A tornado outbreak occurred in May
                        20 in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma, with numerous fatalities around Kansas City. Actually the moisture
                        returned at the last minute into Kansas and Missouri on May 20 and even mixed out in some places in the warm sector
                        on the day of the outbreak due to very strong low level flow above the surface and shallow moisture. But the moisture
                        was obviously deep enough for violent tornadoes.
                        The upper trough that caused the tornadoes on May 20 was lifting ne through the northern plains on May 21. A violent
                        tornado occurred in eastern Minnesota in association with this strong shortwave trough and deep surface low.
                        Violent tornadoes also occurred in southern Missouri with 15 people killed as lower 70sF dewpoints surged into that
                        area along with 70 to 80 kts at 500mb.

                        On May 22, 1957, a surface low was located over southwest Oklahoma at 18 UTC. A front stretched from central NM
                        into Oklahoma and then into Missouri. Outflow had pushed south of the front to the Red River. A pacific cold front
                        stretched from the low south to near Del Rio. The pacific cold front washed out over the next 12 hours. However,
                        the other front pushed south through all of West Texas and eastern NM by 18 UTC May 23. Outflow had outrun the
                        front in central and east Texas. Surface dewpoints were from 70 to 75F in the Texas warm sector. The dewpoint was still
                        57F and 59F well north of the front at Lubbock and Childress.

                        By 00 UTC May 24, dewpoints were above 60F at Midland and were on the rise across West Texas. The dewpoint
                        was holding at 57F at Lubbock.  60F dewpoints were located as far north as Oklahoma City and Childress, TX.
                        The front was located from south of Fort Stockton, TX into the DFW area and then northeast into northern Arkansas.
                        A large convective cluster had forced the effective warm sector well south through Killeen, Austin and Lufkin, TX.
                        Dewpoints in the south Texas warm sector were quite high from 73 to 77F.  However, the dewpoints were starting to
                        get very high even on the higher terrain of the Edwards Plateau region(above 2000ft elev.) at San Angelo(67F) and

                        By 06 UTC May 24, rich gulf moisture was surging back into southeast NM on both sides of the warm front. The
                        dewpoints were up to 65F at Midland, 63F at Hobbs and 61F at Carlsbad. San Angelo has a 70F dewpoint with surface
                        winds fron the east-northeast. The dewpoint at Lubbock was up to 59F.

                        The 12 UTC surface chart showed that dense fog had developed from upslope and moisture advection in west Texas as
                        as far north as Amarillo. Surface dewpoints were up to 63F at Roswell, 66F at Hobbs, 66F at Carlsbad and 68F at
                        Midland. These are extremely high dewpoints for this area. Lubbock was socked in with fog with 61F/61F T/TD and
                        east winds at 20 kts.  Upper 60sF dewpoints were not far southeast of Lubbock at Snyder, TX(67F).

                        By 15 UTC May 24, the surface dewpoint was up to 64F at Lubbock with 3/8 mile visibility in fog and 20kt east-southeast
                        upslope flow.  The T/Td was 69F/63F at Clovis, NM at 15 UTC at 863 mb with lifted index of -10 to 11 and CAPE of 3500 j/kg.
                        The approximate sounding for Clovis, NM can be found here.

                        The storms that produced tornadoes in west Texas in late morning and early afternoon were probably initiating around
                        1630 UTC. The reason I say this is because the surface winds were already veered at Tucumcari and Clovis(Cannon AFB
                         on the west side of Clovis) by this time with the moisture axis shifting east. I suspect that the storm that produced a tornado
                        near Bovina at 1110 am developed south of Clovis along the dryline, becoming quickly tornadic upon crossing the warm
                        front. The storm that produced the tornado south of Muleshoe, TX at 1110 am developed in the vicinity of Clovis around
                        1030 am and also became quickly tornadic after crossing the warm front. The storm that produced a tornado 20 miles
                        northwest of Wildorado, TX at 1117 am probably developed north of Clovis around 10 am. The T/TD was 68/67F at
                        Reese AFB at 1630 UTC with lifted index of at least -9 and CAPE of 3000/j/kg. The approximate sounding for Lubbock
                        for 16 UTC can be found here.
                        At 1730 UTC, as tornadoes were roughly near Friona and southeast of Sudan, the T/TD at Reese AFB was 72F/67F
                        with 70F/67F at Lubbock.

                        At 1230 pm(1830 UTC) as the tornado was wreaking severe damage at Olton, TX, the T/TD were up to 73F/67F at
                        Lubbock(35 miles to the southeast). Lubbock was just breaking out of the fog with the warm front about to move through.
                        So it appears that the Olton tornado occurred just north of the warm front with very low dewpoint depressions and backed
                        surface winds. All the tornadoes that occurred in west Texas and the Texas panhandle from 11 am to 2 pm(excluding the Lynn/
                        Crosby county tornado) occurred immediately north of the warm front with low dewpoint depressions, backed surface winds
                        and surface  based CAPES over 3000 j/kg.

                        Tornadoes also occurred in the warm sector near Midland and east/southeast of Lubbock between 1 pm and 9 pm. These
                        storms occurred.....  to be completed at a later time.

                        Storms also developed along the warm front south of the Red River around 3  pm(21 UTC). These storms moved northeast and
                        became tornadic. The surface chart showed T/TD values of about 80F/74F along the warm front and 76F/74F just north of the warm
                        front ahead of the storms. Mid level temps were considerably warmer for these storms than for the earlier storms northwest of
                        Lubbock and southwest of Amarillo. But surface based lifted indices were still between -10 and -11 with surface based CAPES
                        over 3000 j/kg. Obviously the high surface dewpoints made up for the warmer mid level temperatures.


                        500mb charts

                        15 UTC May 24 

                        21 UTC May 24

                        03 UTC May 25


                        700mb charts

                        15 UTC May 24                       

                        03 UTC May 25


                        250mb charts

                        15 UTC May 24                        

                        03 UTC May 25

                       Surface Charts

                        1830 UTC May 22

                        1830 UTC May 23

                        0030 UTC May 24

                        0630 UTC May 24

                        1230 UTC May 24

                        1530 UTC May 24

                        1630 UTC May 24

                        1730 UTC May 24

                        1830 UTC May 24                        

                        2130 UTC May 24

                        When one think of upslope flow on the high plains, west Texas is usually not the first place that comes to mind. I tend to the
                        McCook-Sidney-Cheyenne-Scottsbluff corridor southward into northeast Colorado. But upon inspection of a topographic map,
                        one can readily see that southeast to east to northeast low  level flow in the Lubbock area is definitely upslope. In fact, upslope
                        flow in west Texas can have a dramatic impact on weather conditions. Air that flows westward from Hall, Cottle, King, Stonewall
                        and Childress counties onto the "Caprock" has to ascend about 1200-1500ft in 25 to 50 miles.  The elevation gradient is not
                        as great in the Texas panhandle to the north and Edwards Plateau to the south. This can lead to higher surface pressures, cooler
                        temperatures and higher dewpoint temperatures in west Texas. Despite the "coolness" of the air, when the sun breaks out along
                        the southern edge of such an airmass it can become very unstable.