Tornadoes, the F-Scale, and Dr. Tetsuya Theodore Fujita

The Southwest Collection houses the papers of Dr. Tetsuya Theodore “Ted” Fujita. Dr. Fujita (1920-1998) was a world-renowned meteorological researcher whose work changed the way that people viewed and dealt with severe storms, in particular tornadoes and hurricanes. The collection, entitled The T. Theodore Fujita Papers, 1896-2003, encompasses over one hundred boxes of photographs, articles, published and unpublished reports, conference proceedings, charts, graphs, slides, film, correspondence, maps, and other research materials from his five-decade career.


Ted Fujita was born in Kitakyushu, Japan. After receiving his doctorate from Tokyo University in 1950, he began a career as an associate professor at the Kyushu Institute of Technology. In 1953, he began teaching at the University of Chicago where he served as a professor until his death in 1998. At the University of Chicago he focused his research on meteorology, especially severe weather, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and microbursts in the United States and internationally.

Photo and description of the Fujita Tornado Scale ADJ watermark

Fujita, an observationalist working well before the era of digital recording devices and DOPPLER radar, pioneered new techniques for documenting severe storms, including aerial photography and the use of satellite radar images and film. He is famous for creating the Fujita Scale, or F-scale, for assessing tornadic intensity based on a storm’s wind speed and the amount of damage that it caused. To properly define this scale, Fujita methodically documented physical damage, loss of life, and the social effects of tornadoes and hurricanes on communities. He also theorized multiple vortex tornadoes before they were captured on film.

Fscale classification of 1971 tornadoes (2)

Much of this research was performed as part of nationally prominent projects that Dr. Fujita led, participated in, or supported, such as the Satellite and Mesometeorology Research Project (SMRP), the National Severe Storms Project (NSSP), and the creation of the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University. This research not only led to changes in building codes and improved early detection methods, but also attracted the interest of government agencies including NASA, the United States Navy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Private institutions such as the Climatological Consulting Corporation also sought Fujita’s expertise during their investigations of legal and financial claims in the wake of severe storms.

US Tornado Map 1930-74-9x12

Maps such as this were used to document tornado outbreak over many decades. Later editions would contain information on the Superoutbreak of 1974.

The most notable materials in the collection pertain to 1974’s Super Outbreak of tornadoes. The incident was the second largest tornado outbreak on record for a twenty-four hour period, producing one hundred forty-eight tornadoes occurring in thirteen states in the Midwest, South, the Eastern seaboard, and the Canadian province of Ontario. The Super Outbreak’s death toll of three hundred was not exceeded until the recent April, 2011 outbreak. This portion of the collection consists of hundreds of photographs, several boxes of research material and publications, and a variety of maps, charts, and other documentation created by Fujita in the Outbreak’s aftermath.

The finding aid for the collection may be viewed at Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO):, as well as through the Southwest Collection/Special Collection Archives website at