Introducing The “Father Of Tornado Research.”

Tornado | Photo by

I have discussed tornadoes in previous articles and mentioned the man most responsible for just about everything we know today about these destructive and deadly cyclones. His name is Tetsuya Theodore Fujita, also known as Ted Fujita or T. Theodore Fujita. It is, to say the least, interesting to research his background.

Close-up Fujita
T. Theodore Fujita (close-up) With His F-Scale | Image by explains that Fujita was born in 1920 in Kitakyushu, Japan. This is only a snippet of his biography. He earned a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Meiji College of Technology in Tokyo. In 1944 he was an assistant physics professor in the college’s physics department. After completing his doctoral degree in 1953 he emigrated to the United States to work at the University of Chicago in their meteorology department. In 1968 he became a U.S. citizen and continued working at the University of Chicago until his death on November 19,1998.

Man-made Tornado
T. Ted Fujita Developed First Laboratory-made Tornado | Image by

His research brought to the scientific community a better understanding of how tornadoes form and the power they contain. Fujita was the first to develop a way to make a tornado in a lab to study it up close. He was the first to put forth the theory and then prove that tornadoes can form in a “family” meaning multiple tornadoes developing from the same wall cloud and later research showed that, as an example, three tornadoes could form from one parent twister then separate and cause damage, then rejoin as one funnel and continue on its path.

Palm Sunday Outbreak
1965 Palm Sunday Outbreak | Image by

Dr. Fujita studied the aftermath of a large-scale tornado outbreak, called the Palm Sunday Outbreak, that occurred on April 11th & 12th in 1965. The series of tornadoes ripped through 6 states including Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The outbreak resulted in 270 deaths with at least 5,000 persons injured and an estimated $250 million in damage. He was, here it comes again, the first to use extensive airborne photos of the damage and debris field to analyze the tornado paths and developed his “Fujita Scale” or F-Scale based on his interpretation of the angles of twisted debris to estimate the actual speed of the rotating vortex winds.

Fujita's Contributions
Fujita’s Contributions | Image by NWS Grand Rapids via Twitter

Quoting the “The capstone of Fujita’s work with tornadoes is considered by many to be his work with the super outbreak of April 3-4, 1974, a national-scale outbreak of 148 tornadoes (4 of the tornadoes were later reclassified as downbursts by Fujita). His maps of complex damage patterns aided his identification of previously undiscovered phenomena, the downburst and the microburst. These sudden, severe downdrafts can result in 250-km (150 mile-) per-hour winds on or near the ground that often uproot trees in discernible starburst patterns.” His theory was met with skepticizm by the scientific community until he showed that a 1975 airliner crash at Kennedy Airport in New York City was  caused my microbursts.

Thunderstorm Downburst
Thunderstorm Downburst Explained | Image by through slideserve

When there has been damage that could have been caused by either a tornado or a downburst the National Weather Service sends an expert to discern which was the culprit. The tornado’s winds rotate around forming the spinning vortex while the downburst can come straight down from the cloud base or plummet at an angle to the ground. The tornado debris lays out in twisted formations while the downburst debris is either flattened vertically forming a starburst pattern or spread laterally striking trees, buildings, etc. flattening them in astraight line. They also look for drag marks on the ground which would be made by a tornado not a downburst. Aerial photographs are also used, as previously mentioned, and can make these patterns show up even more prominently.

F-Scale vs EF-Scale
Fujita F-Scale/Enhanced EF-Scale | Image by

Fujita’s F-Scale was revised in by a team of meteorologists and became known as The Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF-Scale). The National Weather Service adopted the EF-Scale in 2007 and Environment Canada (the Canadian National Weather Service) started using it in 2013.

The University of Chicago
The University of Chicago | Image by Gary/Chicago Crusader

I think I mentioned in a previous article that I actually had contact with Dr. Fujita many years ago. I was working on an independent study research project at Memphis State University (now the University Of Memphis) and part of my project included listing and mapping severe thunderstorm and tornado events over a 30-year period for a 33-county area surrounding Memphis. I needed a map showing the tornado occurrences over the whole continental U.S. for comparison and contacted his office at the University of Chicago. I spoke with one of his associates who sent the map to me after one telephone call. When my research was completed I needed some more information to compare the peak month of tornado activity in my area at the time with that of the whole country. Dr. Fujita had just released his book delineating the history of tornadoes in the U.S. and I needed some clarification to make my conclusions. I placed the second call expecting to talk with one of his assistants again, but was very surprised when he answered the phone. He was very cordial and proceeded to give me all of the information I needed. I really wish I could have been able to actually meet him in person.

Believe it or not, Fujita did most of his research and made most of his discoveries without having even seen a tornado up close. To remedy that he decided to go with the Storm Chasers in the field ( I believe in the 1970s) so he could witness the power of the tornado first hand.

Oregon Tornado Damage
Aumsville, OR EF-2 Tornado 12/14/2010 | Photo by The National Weather Service

We average only one tornado a year in the whole state of Oregon, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared to protect yourself if one drops down near you.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

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