Fukuoka: ‘Mr. Tornado’ to be honored in hometown

Courtesy of the Kitakyushu city government
A rendering shows Space Labo, a museum set up to open in Kitakyushu this spring. A tornado generator will be installed in the center.

KITAKYUSHU — The international standard for measuring tornado severity, called the Fujita scale, was invented by a Japanese-American meteorologist from Fukuoka Prefecture.

Tetsuya Fujita (1920-98) is not well known in Japan because he spent a long time studying in the United States. However, he was a world authority in meteorology and known as Ted Fujita or “Mr. Tornado.”

An area honoring Fujita’s achievements will be set up in the new science museum Space Labo scheduled to open this spring in Kitakyushu, his hometown.

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

Courtesy of the Association to Honor Dr. Tetsuya Fujita
Tetsuya Fujita

When Fujita was still in Kyushu, 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 university, which became the impetus for Fujita to leave Japan.

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, with improvements being made.

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.”

Courtesy of the Kitakyushu city government
Tetsuya Fujita’s favorite cameras, which will be on display at Space Labo

Fujita continued to live in Chicago after his retirement at the age of 70, and he died in the United States at the age of 78. He described his life as “like being married to a storm with strong winds.”

Space Labo will be a three-story building in a commercial complex called Outlets Kitakyushu, according to the municipal government. The retail outlets will open in April on the former site of a theme park called Space World, which closed at the end of 2017.

A zone honoring Fujita will be set up at the new museum in response to requests from local residents. There will be panels introducing his career and a display of cameras he used during his field research.

A device that can artificially create a tornado will also be installed. At a height of about 10 meters, it will be one of the largest tornado generators in Japan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

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

A local group, the Association to Honor Dr. Tetsuya Fujita, was formed four years ago and has been requesting such a zone be set up in a museum.

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