The end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 will be remembered for severe disasters. Blizzards, ice storms, floods and deadly tornadoes. As if the pandemic hadn’t created enough chaos and heartbreak, tornadoes tore through six states, including the state of Kentucky. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear says at least 70 people have been killed and the death toll could rise further. The state was hit by four tornadoes, one of which remained on the ground for more than 200 miles. We may not see that kind of devastation here in Oregon, but it’s a good reason for us to become more aware of what tornadoes can do and what we should do when they strike. The following is an overview of how we first learned how tornadoes form and how much damage they can cause.
I have discussed tornadoes in previous articles and mentioned the man most responsible for all we know about these destructive and deadly cyclones today. His name is Tetsuya Theodore Fujita, also known as Ted Fujita or T. Theodore Fujita. The scientific community nicknamed him “Mr. Tornado.” It is interesting, to say the least, to research his background.
Britannica.com explains that Fujita was born in 1920 in Kitakyushu, Japan. This is just an excerpt from his biography. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Meiji College of Technology in Tokyo. In 1944 he was an assistant professor of physics in the college’s physics department. After obtaining his doctorate in 1953, he emigrated to the United States to work at the University of Chicago in their meteorology department. In 1968 he became an American citizen and continued to work at the University of Chicago until his death on November 19, 1998.
His research has given 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 the lab to study it up close. He was the first to theorize and then prove that tornadoes can form in a “family”, i.e. multiple tornadoes developing from the same wall cloud and later research has shown that, for example, three tornadoes could form from a parent tornado and then separate. and cause damage, then join into a single funnel and continue on its way.
Dr. Fujita studied the aftermath of a large-scale tornado outbreak, called the Palm Sunday outbreak, which occurred on April 11-12 in 1965. The series of tornadoes devastated 6 states, including l ‘Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. The outbreak left 270 dead, at least 5,000 injured and damage estimated at $250 million. He was, again, the first to use numerous airborne photos of the damage and debris field to analyze tornado trajectories and developed his “Fujita Scale” or F-Scale based on his interpretation of twisted debris angles. to estimate the true speed of rotating vortex winds.
Quoting Britannica.com “The cornerstone of Fujita’s tornado work is considered by many to be his work with the super outbreak of April 3-4, 1974, a nationwide outbreak of 148 tornadoes (4 of the tornadoes were later reclassified as gusts descendants by Fujita). His complex damage pattern maps helped him identify previously unknown phenomena, the downburst and the microburst. These sudden and severe downdrafts can drive winds of 250 km (150 miles) per hour on or near the ground that often uproot trees in noticeable star patterns. His theory was met with skepticism by the scientific community until he showed that a 1975 plane crash at Kennedy Airport in New York was the source of my microbursts.
When there has been damage that could have been caused by a tornado or downburst, the National Weather Service sends an expert to discern who the culprit was. Winds from the tornado spin around to form the spinning vortex while the downburst may descend directly from the cloud base or dip at an angle to the ground. Tornado debris occurs in twisted formations while downburst debris is either flattened vertically forming a star pattern or spread laterally striking trees, buildings, etc. by flattening them in a straight line. They are also looking for drag marks on the ground that would be caused by a tornado and not a downburst. Aerial photographs are also used, as mentioned earlier, and can make these patterns appear even more prominently.
Fujita’s F-Scale was revised 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 National Weather Service of Canada) began using it in 2013.
I think I mentioned in a previous post that I actually had contact with Dr. Fujita many years ago. I was working on an independent research project at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) and part of my project included listing and mapping severe thunderstorms and tornadoes over a 30 year period for a 33-county region surrounding Memphis. I needed a map showing tornado occurrences across the entire continental United States for comparison and contacted his office at the University of Chicago. I spoke with one of his associates who sent me the card after a phone call. Once my research was complete, I needed more information to compare the peak month of tornado activity in my area at the time with that of the entire country. Dr. Fujita had just published his book describing the history of tornadoes in the United States and I needed some clarification to draw my conclusions. I made the second call hoping to speak with one of his assistants again, but was very surprised when he answered the phone. He was very cordial and gave me all the information I needed. I really wish I could have met him in person.
Believe it or not, Fujita did most of his research and made most of his discoveries without even seeing a tornado up close. To remedy this, 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 firsthand.
We only average one tornado a year in the entire state of Oregon, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared to protect yourself if one hits close to home.
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