Mr. Tornado – The Super Outbreak of 1974 was the most intense tornado outbreak on record, tearing a vicious path of destruction across thirteen states, generating 148 tornadoes from Alabama to Ontario, damaging thousands of homes, and killing more than 300 people. Meteorologist Tetsuya Theodore “Ted” Fujita spent ten months studying the outbreak’s aftermath in the most extensive aerial tornado study ever conducted, and through detailed mapping and leaps of scientific imagination, made a series of meteorological breakthroughs.
His discovery of “microbursts,” sudden high wind patterns that could cause airplanes to drop from the sky without warning, transformed aviation safety and saved untold numbers of lives. Mr. Tornado is the remarkable story of the man whose groundbreaking work in research and applied science saved thousands of lives and helped Americans prepare for and respond to dangerous weather phenomena.
Japanese American researcher Tetsuya Theodore Fujita, aka Mr. Tornado, created the Fujita scale of tornado intensity and damage and is credited with advancing modern understanding of severe weather phenomena.
Mr. Tornado – Tetsuya Theodore “Ted” Fujita
T. Theodore Fujita, original name Fujita Tetsuya, Japanese-born American meteorologist who created the Fujita Scale, or F-Scale, a system of classifying tornado intensity based on damage to structures and vegetation. He also discovered macrobursts and microbursts, weather phenomena that are associated with severe thunderstorms and are hazards to aviation.
Fujita earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1943 from Meiji College of Technology, Tokyo, Japan, where he became an assistant professor in the physics department in 1944. Upon completion of a doctoral degree from Tokyo University in 1953, he moved to the United States and joined the meteorology department at the University of Chicago. After a trip to Japan in 1955–56 to obtain an immigrant visa, he returned to the University of Chicago. Fujita became a U.S. citizen in 1968 and took “Theodore” as a middle name. He remained at the University of Chicago, serving in a variety of positions, until his death.
Work With Tornadoes
Early in his career, Fujita turned his attention to tornadoes, a subject of lifelong fascination. He made extensive use of aerial surveys of tornado tracks and took innumerable aerial photographs, displaying an uncanny ability to discern order and pattern in jumbles of debris and downed trees.
His post-event analyses of tornadoes were holistic, bringing together not only traditional meteorological data on temperatures and winds but also photography of damaged structures, photogrammetric analyses of movies of tornadoes to estimate the magnitude of the swirling winds, analysis of bounce and drag marks on the surface, and observation of directions in which trees had been uprooted and debris and detritus thrown. The resulting reports with their detailed mappings told simple, clear stories about one of nature’s most powerful events. Fujita’s detailed maps of tornado tracks were hand-drawn, reportedly because he did not trust computers for such fine-scale work.
He introduced the concept of the tornado “family,” a sequence of tornadoes, each with a unique path, produced by a single thunderstorm over a few hours. Prior to this, long damage paths were commonly attributed to a single tornado that sometimes “skipped” along its path.
Fujita’s analysis of the Palm Sunday Outbreak of April 11–12, 1965, was the first systematic analysis of a regional outbreak. Based on this study and an airborne observation of a large dust devil, he put forth the concept of the “multiple vortex tornado,” that is, a system of smaller vortices circling around a common centre. These small embedded vortices—sometimes termed suction vortices—are often found in the most violent tornadoes and may contain the highest wind speeds known (greater than 500 km per hour, or 300 miles per hour).
Other Contributions To Meteorology
Fujita also studied other forms of severe weather, such as thunderstorms and hurricanes. He pioneered novel techniques for analyzing small to midsize weather conditions, laying the foundation for the “mesoscale analyses” now carried out in weather stations all over the world. He introduced the basic concepts of thunderstorm architecture, including terms such as wall cloud and tail cloud that are in widespread use today.
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