While Ted Fujita is best known for devising the famous Fujita Tornado Wind Damage Scale with his wife Sumiko in 1971, becoming known as 'Mr. Tornado', his place in the history of science was assured for his theory of microburst winds. His investigation of the Eastern Airlines Flight 66 aircraft accident in 1975 at New York's JFK Airport led him to discover the killer winds he called microbursts. Microburst accidents were responsible for previously killing more than 500 airline passengers at major U.S. airports alone. Fujita's work eventually led to the installation of Doppler radar at airports to improve aviation safety.
Fujita was born October 23, 1920 in Kitakyusho City, Japan and earned his doctoral degree from Tokyo University upon compleeting an analytical study of typhoons. Fujita studied wind and pressure patterns of thunderstorms in Japan and he speculated about downflowing air drafts inside thunderstorms as early as in 1947. His studies brought Fujita to the University of Chicago in 1953, where meteorology Professor Horace Byers would soon become his fatherly mentor. The starburst pattern of uprooted trees found in forests following tornadoes led Fujita to his theory of microburst winds. He had seem similar patterns years before - when he had visited Nagasaki and Hiroshima just weeks after the atomic bombs were dropped to observe shock-wave effects on trees and structures in the devastated areas.
His microburst theory stirred controversity for years. Many meteorologists found it difficult to believe in a concept of a microburst, a small-sized downdraft that could induce an outburst of 150 mph winds on or near the ground. But Fujita continued to collect data on microbursts, in 1978 he detected 50 downbursts in 42 days in the Chicago area, leading eventually to a widespread acceptance of the microburst concept.
Fujita's colleagues said he was an observational genius having an uncanny ability to theorize how things work from often limited observations. He often had ideas way before other scientist could even imagine them.
Fujita retired from teaching in 1990, but continued to conduct research until the very end. Ted Fujita died on November 19, 1998 at his Chicago home.