An 'unprecedented tornado': Violent storm leaves 4 dead in Matador, damage across Texas Rolling Plains (2024)

MATADOR - Four people were killed and nine were injured in this small Motley County community as a line of severe storms produced multiple tornadoes Wednesday evening on the Rolling Plains of West Texas, including one that killed four people, injured 9 others and caused significant damage around the Matador community.

The storms also produced softball-size hail and wind gusts topping 100 mph in other communities including Jayton, which also was under a tornado warning as the line moved southeast after the sun set Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service in Lubbock. Damage from those storms was still being assessed Thursday, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.

There were widespread power outages across the Rolling Plains, including more than 700 customers without power in the Jayton area and several hundred others throughout the region that were expected to linger into Saturday as crews worked to repair the damage.

But the worst of the damage appeared to be in the Motley County community of Matador - a town of about 570 people 70 miles northeast of Lubbock.

By Thursday afternoon, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had issued a Disaster Declaration to include sending more state aid to Matador to help with the clean-up efforts. That came less than a week after the governor issued a disaster declaration for Panhandle counties impacted by a tornado that killed three people and left more than 100 injured in Perryton - about 175 miles north of Matador.

An 'unprecedented tornado': Violent storm leaves 4 dead in Matador, damage across Texas Rolling Plains (1)

Assessing the damage from Matador's tornado

Although a team from the National Weather Service was still investigating the storm Thursday, officials confirmed a tornado struck the town around 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Witnesses who spoke to the Avalanche-Journal shortly after daybreak Thursday morning said the storm came with little warning and moved through quickly, but felt like an eternity.

“It seemed like a long time — probably 20, 30 seconds and then it’s over,” said Pat Smith, Matador's mayor.

Smith is also the owner of Billie Dean’s Cafe and Motel, which stood in the tornado's direct path, said he was in the cafe with two of his waitresses when the tornado struck.

Smith recalled grabbing a waitress and only had a short head start to take shelter in the cafe’s kitchen when the tornado hit.

An 'unprecedented tornado': Violent storm leaves 4 dead in Matador, damage across Texas Rolling Plains (2)

Once it passed over, Smith, who is also a local first responder, assessed the injuries he and the waitresses suffered, which only amounted to scratches and Smith’s back being knocked into something.

The seven-room motel was vacant at the time of the storm. However, Smith owned several RVs behind the motel which housed one person who died during the storm.

Even after all Smith had been through, when asked to donate items such as meat and plastic silverware to a local nursing home, he said yes.

That same generosity was shown by a resident who identified herself as Barbara, whose bakery in the central part of the city saw little to no damage. By early Thursday morning, she was in her shop, passing out coffee and pastries to EMS and law enforcement crews who flocked to the community in the hours after the storm.

Barbara, who recently moved to Matador, recalled having little warning when the tornado hit.

“The lightning had started and the power went out first,” she said. “We just thought it was another storm. So I checked my phone and it wasn't hail, it was a tornado. But by that time it was too late.”

She said help from other communities arrived within 90 minutes of the storm passing.

An 'unprecedented tornado': Violent storm leaves 4 dead in Matador, damage across Texas Rolling Plains (3)

Emergency crews from around the region and across the state responded to assist, including Lubbock Fire Rescue, which also provided the use of its public information office to communicate details about the disaster, relief and recovery efforts.

Although there were no announced plans for visits by mid-Thursday, several state and area leaders took to social media to share their thoughts, prayers and support for the community.

Officials hosted a news conference Thursday morning to provide up-to-date information, with Lubbock Fire Rescue's public information office pitching in to help Matador's first responders.

"The Town of Matador has experienced an unprecedented tornado bringing damaging winds to the town," reads a portion of the statement from LFR.

With the heat creeping into the high 90s, LFR said Matador opened a Cooling Center at the Motley County Senior Citizen Building located at 621 Stewart Ave.

Clean-up efforts are underway in the City of Matador with TxDOT bringing in heavy equipment to remove the debris.

The city was still without power on Thursday afternoon, but public officials say they are optimistic to get the power back up by Friday evening or Saturday morning.

Other tornado damage in West Texas

Wednesday's tornado outbreak came six days after a confirmed EF-3 tornado left three people dead and more than 100 injured in Perryton in the northern Texas Panhandle.

More:Cleanup, recovery efforts continue in Panhandle town after deadly tornado devastates Perryton

In a message at 8:08 p.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service in Lubbock reported that law enforcement confirmed a tornado located just north of Matador in what was a tornado-warned storm in Motley County.

Shortly after 9:30 p.m., William Iwasko, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Lubbock, said there had been three confirmed tornadoes in the line of storms, but it appeared the one in Matador was the only one that caused significant damage.

Reports from storm chasers and meteorologists on social media showed considerable damage around Matador, with damaged homes, utility lines, trees and infrastructure.

Lubbock Fire Rescue confirmed to the Avalanche-Journal that it was sending a crew to assist with the damage and recovery.

"I gave the order for Heavy Rescue 1 to respond to the town of Matador to assist in freeing trapped residents from collapsed structures," LFR Chief Shaun Fogerson said in a message. "This was in response to a request from TDEM and the Director of Emergency Management in Matador. Deputy Chief Nick Wilson is responding and will direct our crews."

University Medical Center in Lubbock confirmed it was sending its AMBUS mobile medical unit to Matador Wednesday evening, and the Amarillo Fire Department did the same.

Just before 9 p.m., Wednesday a new tornado warning was issued for Dickens and King counties through 10 p.m. as the line of storms continued traveling southeast, according to a statement from the weather service on Twitter.

"This is a particularly dangerous situation. A confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado!" reads the statement from the weather service.

As the storm moved south from Matador, the weather service confirmed a tornado was on the ground northeast of the Afton community and moving southeast at 20 mph.

The line of storms was also prompting severe weather warnings, with reports of baseball-size hail and winds upward of 70 mph.

The Weather Service in Lubbock continued issuing warnings as the line of storms moved south into the Big County.

As the storm moved near Jayton, the Weather Service issued a tornado warning for eastern Kent and western Stonewall counties, with large hail and a confirmed wind gust of 100 mph in the Jayton area, according to the weather service.

(Reporter Brandi D. Addison contributed to this story.)

An 'unprecedented tornado': Violent storm leaves 4 dead in Matador, damage across Texas Rolling Plains (2024)


Who died in the matador tornado? ›

The four who lost their lives to the tornado were identified as 59-year-old Randell (Randy) Rolin from Purcell, OK, 85-year-old Jo Etta Bumgardner from Matador, TX, 43-year-old Victor Valenzuela Jr.

Were 4 dead 10 injured after tornado rips through Texas town? ›

A large tornado tore through the town of Matador, Tex., leaving four people dead and 10 injured, emergency services said early Thursday. The destructive tornado hit amid a siege of violent storms stretching from around Houston to Denver on Wednesday afternoon and night.

Was the matador tornado an EF5? ›

Rating: EF-3 Estimated Peak Wind: 165 mph Path Length /statute/: 9.4 miles Path Width /maximum/: 0.34 miles Fatalities: 4 Injuries: 15 Start Date: 06/21/2023 Start Time: 7:51 PM CDT Start Location: 6.9 N Matador / Motley County / TX Start Lat/Lon: 34.12 / -100.85 End Date: 06/21/2023 End Time: 8:09 PM CDT End Location: ...

What was the deadliest tornado in Texas history? ›


Nearly 1/3 of a mile wide, the massive F5 tornado crossed Waco on a path that ran almost south to north, killing 114 persons and injuring 597.

How strong was the Matador tornado? ›

Surveyors found damage that indicated the cyclone had maximum winds of 165 mph, placing it in the EF-3 range of the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Originally, authorities reported nine people were injured by the twister. However, the NWS' storm survey showed 15 injuries had been attributed to the tornado.

Who was the baby that died in tornado? ›

A four-month-old baby was among at least five people killed after dozens of tornadoes swept across central parts of the US. Officials said at least 100 people were injured in Oklahoma, where four of the five died, as the extreme weather flattened buildings, ripped off roofing and threw vehicles down the street.

Has anyone survived a EF5 tornado? ›

Aria Vargyas was eight years old and in second grade when the EF5 tornado obliterated her grade school. “When I woke up, I was being pulled out of the rubble by some guy I didn't even know," she told us. Her older brother was in fifth grade at Briarwood Elementary and he also survived.

What part of Texas has never had a tornado? ›

While no part of Texas is immune from tornadoes, areas of far West Texas, El Paso, and Central Texas see the lowest occurrence of tornadoes in the state.

Who was the boy who survived the tornado in Texas? ›

“An absolute miracle.” That's the only way to describe 7-year-old Lane Lambert surviving being thrown 25 feet after getting sucked up in the tornado that destroyed his family's home near Abilene, Texas, last week.

What was the only F6 tornado? ›

After viewing the aerial photos of the storm damage in Xenia, Fujita officially rated the tornado as an F6. This was the second and last time that a tornado was rated as an F6. The other F6 tornado occurred in Lubbock, Texas in 1970.

Can a EF5 tornado pick up a car? ›

These forces can be strong enough to pick up objects as heavy as cars and move them through the air. The strength of a tornado is measured on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale, with EF0 being the weakest and EF5 being the strongest.

What was the most aggressive tornado? ›

Highest forward speed

The highest accepted forward speed of an intense tornado on record was 73 mph (117 km/h) from the 1925 Tri-State tornado, occurring between the Illinois cities of Gorham and Murphysboro.

What city in Texas has the most tornadoes? ›

While Houston has had the most tornadoes of any major city in Texas, they're not necessarily the strongest. This is because a large percentage of Houston's tornadoes have been the result of tropical systems, which can produce a large number of weak tornadoes in a short period.

When was the last F5 tornado? ›

The nation's last EF-5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013.

Is the Dead Man Walking tornado real? ›

The term "Dead man walking" is a phrase used to describe the certain look of some multi-vortex tornadoes. The term is most commonly attributed to the 1997 Jarrell F5 tornado, but has been used to describe multiple other tornadoes: 1974 Xenia, Ohio F5 tornado. 1987 Edmonton, Alberta F4 tornado.

What happened to Matador, Texas? ›

At least four people killed after tornado hits Matador, a small town outside Lubbock. The city of about 800 also suffered extensive property damage and power outages. Crews were still assessing the full scope of destruction Thursday, and Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration.

What category was the Matador tornado? ›

Officials with the U.S. National Weather Service out of Lubbock released information regarding the tornado that made a direct hit on the town of Matador. The NWS has rated the tornado an EF-3.

How many tornado hunters have died? ›

For nearly sixty years, the only known chaser deaths were driving-related. As of 22 May 2024, there have been 4 direct storm chasing deaths and 12 indirect deaths. Nearly half of the indirect deaths are a result of hydroplaning in conditions after a chase.


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