Jan. 6, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 7

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    American Meteorological Society will honor ‘Mr. Tornado’

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    The American Meteorological Society will hold a symposium to honor the late T. Theodore Fujita, University scientist and developer of the internationally accepted F-scale for measuring tornado severity.

    In the 1950s, Fujita pioneered the field of mesometeorology, the study of middle-sized atmospheric phenomena such as hurricanes and tornadoes. He also was known for the discovery of microbursts, small downdrafts that induce ground-level winds of 150 miles per hour, and their link to commercial airline crashes.

    Fujita died in November 1998 at the age of 78.

    Scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 10 and 11, the “Symposium on the Mystery of Severe Storms: A Tribute to the Work of T. Theodore Fujita” will be part of the American Meteorological Society’s 80th annual meeting being held in Long Beach, Calif. Fujita’s widow, Sumiko, and his son, Kazuya, a geologist at Michigan State University, will attend the symposium.

    The society originally had not planned to bestow the honor posthumously, said Roger Wakimoto (Ph.D., ’81), professor and chairman of the atmospheric sciences department at the University of California, Los Angeles.

    “The American Meteorological Society, in all its history, has never named a symposium after somebody who is living,” said Wakimoto, a symposium organizer. “Fujita was going to be the first. Unfortunately, we didn’t do it quickly enough.”

    Wakimoto, one of Fujita’s former students, is planning the symposium with co-organizer Gregory Forbes of The Weather Channel. The Jan. 10 session will include presentations on such topics as damage surveys and F-scale assessments, cloud tracking with satellite imagery, and microbursts, downbursts and aviation safety. The Jan. 11 session largely will be devoted to discussion about the May 3, 1999, tornado outbreak in Oklahoma and Kansas.

    After devising his tornado scale in 1971, Fujita became known as “Mr. Tornado.” The Fujita Tornado Scale has a six-point range from F0, winds of 40 to 72 miles per hour and minor damage, to F5, winds of 261 to 319 miles per hour and massive destruction.

    In addition to broadening scientists’ understanding of natural disasters, Fujita’s wind research provided explanations for other life-claiming tragedies.

    “His investigation of the Eastern Airlines Flight 66 aircraft accident in 1975 at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport led him to discover the killer winds he called microbursts,” said Ramesh Srivastava, Professor in Geophysical Sciences.

    By the end of his career, Fujita had received nearly $12 million in grants from agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research.

    Fujita began working as a Research Associate in the University’s Meteorology Department in 1953, and the University named him the Charles Merriam Distinguished Service Professor in 1989. He retired from teaching in 1990 at the age of 70 but continued to conduct research until his death.

    The program for the Fujita symposium is available at http://ams.confex.com/ams/annual2000/severstorms/index.html.