Tetsuya Theodore Fujita’s Research on Severe Storms

Ted Fujita

Ted Fujita

On October 23, 1920, Japanese-American meteorologist Tetsuya Theodore Fujita was born. Fujita’s research at the University of Chicago on severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons revolutionized the knowledge of each. Together with his wife Sumiko, Fujita developed the Fujita scale (F-scale, Feb 1971) for measuring tornadoes on the basis of their damage.

On October 23, 1920, Japanese-American meteorologist Tetsuya Theodore Fujita was born. Fujita’s research at the University of Chicago on severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons revolutionized the knowledge of each. Together with his wife Sumiko, Fujita developed the Fujita scale (F-scale, Feb 1971) for measuring tornadoes on the basis of their damage.

Tetsuya Theodore Fujita studied at Kyushu Institute of Technology and worked there as an associate professor until 1953. Fujita was then invited to the University of Chicago on the invitation of Horace R. Byers who had become interested in his research, particularly his independent discovery of the cold-air downdraft. Tetsuya Theodore Fujita’s achievements mainly revolve around tornado and weather research. He is highly recognized for being the discoverer of downbursts and microbursts and also developed the Fujita scale.

The Fujita scale (F-Scale) or Fujita–Pearson scale was developed to rate tornado intensity based on the damage tornadoes inflict on human-built structures and vegetation. The official Fujita scale category is determined by meteorologists and engineers after a ground or aerial damage survey, or both. Depending on the circumstances, ground-swirl patterns (cycloidal marks), weather radar data, witness testimonies, media reports and damage imagery, as well as photogrammetry or videogrammetry if motion picture recording is available. The F-Scale was replaced with the Enhanced Fujita scale (EF-Scale) in the United States in February 2007.

Next to developing the Fujita scale, the meteorologist also became a pioneer in the development of tornado overflight and damage survey techniques, which he used to study and map the paths of the two tornadoes that hit Lubbock, Texas in 1970. Fujita established the value of photometric analysis of tornado pictures and films to establish wind speeds at various heights at the surface of tornado vortices. Further, Fujita was involved in developing the concept of multiple vortex tornadoes, which feature multiple small funnels (suction vortices) rotating within a larger parent cloud. His work established that, far from being rare events as was previously believed, most powerful tornadoes were composed of multiple vortices.

After Fujita died, Storm Track magazine released a special November 1998 issue, “A Tribute To Dr. Ted Fujita” and Weatherwise published “Mr. Tornado: The life and career of Ted Fujita” as an article in its May/June 1999 issue.

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