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‘Mr. Tornado’ to be honored in hometown

KITAKYUSHU, Japan >> The international standard for measuring tornado severity, called the Fujita scale, was invented by a Japanese American meteorologist from Fukuoka prefecture.

Tetsuya “Ted” Fujita (1920-1998) is not well known in Japan because he spent most of his life in the United States. However, he was a world authority in meteorology and known as Mr. Tornado.

At the new science museum Space Labo, scheduled to open this spring in Kitakyushu, his hometown, an exhibit space is dedicated to honoring Fujita’s achievements.

Fujita graduated from what is now the Kyushu Institute of Technology, then moved to the United States to conduct research on tornadoes at the University of Chicago, according to the Kitakyushu municipal government.

When Fujita was still in Japan, he observed a thunderstorm from the top of a mountain in northern Kyushu and identified the existence of a downdraft at the bottom of the thundercloud. He wrote a paper about it, and the paper was evaluated by a professor at the Chicago university, which led to Fujita joining the university.

In 1971, Fujita invented the Fujita scale to estimate wind speed based on the damage caused by tornadoes and other disasters. It is a six-level index, ranging from F0 to F5, and is widely used around the world.

Fujita also proved the existence of downbursts — downdrafts strong enough to bring down an airplane.

“Thanks to Fujita, airplane accidents have dramatically decreased,” said Kazuhisa Tsuboki, a professor of meteorology at Nagoya University. “Meteorologists all over the world have respect for him, but too few know of him in Japan.”

Fujita continued to live in Chicago after his retirement at the age of 70, and he died in the United States at 78.

Space Labo is a three-story building in the Outlets Kitakyushu commercial complex. The retail outlets were scheduled to open in April on the former site of the Space World theme park, which closed in late 2017.

In response to requests from local residents, and in particular a local group called the Association to Honor Dr. Tetsuya Fujita, an exhibit is included at the museum to honor Fujita, with panel displays discussing his career and a display of cameras he used during field research. Another feature is a tornado generator, which can artificially create a tornado.

“We hope the exhibit will make people feel closer to science,” said a municipal official.

“At last, many people can learn about the achievements of the great scientist from our hometown,” said Masahiro Saburomaru, 77, chair of the group.

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