'Mr. Tornado' Chronicles One Man's Pursuit to Understand the Deadliest Storm

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE MR TORNADO TETSUYA THEODORE FUJITA POINTING
Courtesy of Roger Tully

Tetsuya Theodore Fujita, a Japanese-American scientist, devoted his life to unlocking the mysteries of severe storms.

An engineer turned meteorologist, the story of his lifelong work on severe weather patterns is shared in American Experience: Mr. Tornado Tuesday, May 19 on PBS.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE MR TORNADO TETSUYA THEODORE FUJITA TORNADO PICTURES

Courtesy of Roger Tully

Most widely known for creating the Fujita Scale, or F-Scale, of tornado damage intensity, Fujita brought relentless, creative energy to the field of meteorology.

His unique, forensic analysis of the aftermath left by destructive forces, borne out of the ashes of the world’s first atomic bombs, enabled him to map science onto a phenomenon thought to be unknowable, forever changing our understanding of tornadoes.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE MR TORNADO TETSUYA THEODORE FUJITA SCALE MODEL

Screengrab/American Experience/PBS

Although not a trained meteorologist, Fujita had an inquiring mind and voracious appetite for comprehending the natural world. As a boy in Japan, he studied astronomy to help predict rushing tides while hunting for clams. He next devoured the sciences at Meiji College of Technology, studying engineering, geology and physics, all while continuing his amateur meteorological experiments.

He envisioned a lifetime of scientific research in his beloved homeland, but World War II changed everything.

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE MR TORNADO TETSUYA THEODORE FUJITA GROUP

Courtesy of Gregory S. Forbes

Fujita’s first defining work was his analysis of a massive tornado that struck Fargo, North Dakota in 1957. Acquiring nearly 200 photographs supplied by witnesses, Fujita used the groundbreaking technique of photogrammetry, the science of making measurements from images.

After his meticulous, two-year analysis, Fujita presented incredible insights about the anatomy of tornadoes and the life cycle of their “parent” clouds, or, rotating supercells. Most importantly, he demonstrated that by using a forensic approach, tornadoes could indeed be studied scientifically.

American Experience: Mr. Tornado, Premiere, Tuesday, May 19, 9/8c, PBS (Check your local listings)