Ted Fujita's groundbreaking work to be featured in documentary

Current and emeritus staff recall atmospheric scientist's contributions

NHK, Japan's national public broadcasting network, came to Foothills Lab last week to interview Senior Scientist Emeritus Jim Wilson (EOL/RAL) for a one-hour, prime-time documentary on the late atmospheric scientist Ted Fujita. The documentary makers, who also interviewed former NCAR Director Emeritus Robert Serafin (who maintains an office in EOL) and project scientist Rita Roberts (RAL), explored Fujita's groundbreaking work on microbursts and tornadoes, including the development of a scale of tornado intensity and damage that bears his name.

NCAR scientist Jim Wilson filmed by NHK
NCAR scientist Jim Wilson faces the cameras during a recent interview by NHK, Japan's public broadcasting network, for a documentary on the late Ted Fujita. (@UCAR. Photo by Jeff Smith.)

Fujita, then a professor at the University of Chicago, joined forces with NCAR on two field studies: NIMROD (Northern Illinois Meteorological Research on Downbursts) in 1978 and JAWS (Joint Airport Weather Studies) in 1982. These two groundbreaking studies proved the existence of microbursts and means for their detection with Doppler Radar. Eventually, this research led to the installation of operational Doppler radars at major airports in the United States and around the world. Aircraft crashes due to low-level wind shear have been virtually eliminated.

Wilson worked with Fujita on NIMROD; Wilson, Roberts and Fujita worked together on JAWS; and Serafin managed NCAR's observing facilities at the time of the field studies.

The NHK documentary is scheduled to air in May in Japanese, with the possibility of it being released later in English.

Jeff Smith, Science Writer and Public Information Officer