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‘Behind the curtain’: ‘American Experience’ documentary looks into ‘Mr. Tornado’

Tetsuya Fujita studies a tornado formation in his lab at the University of Chicago. Fujita developed the Fujita Scale, which measures the intensity of tornadoes. (Courtesy of Anthony Boccaccio/NG Image Collection)

The Super Outbreak of 1974 was the most intense tornado outbreak on record, tearing a path of destruction across 13 states, generating 148 tornadoes from Alabama to Ontario, damaging thousands of homes and killing more than 300.

Tetsuya Theodore “Ted” Fujita spent 10 months studying the outbreak’s aftermath in the most extensive aerial tornado study ever conducted, and through detailed mapping and leaps of scientific imagination, he made a series of meteorological breakthroughs.

His discovery of microbursts, sudden high-wind patterns that could cause airplanes to drop from the sky without warning, transformed aviation safety and saved untold numbers of lives.

Fujita’s story is told in the “American Experience” documentary “Mr. Tornado,” which airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 19, on New Mexico PBS.

I chatted with director Michael Rossi during a Skype interview about making the documentary.

He says having the opportunity to tell the story of the man whose groundbreaking work in research and applied science saved thousands of lives and helped prepare for and respond to dangerous weather phenomena.

“We’re giving people a peek behind the curtain,” Rossi says. “Some of the moments in his life are phenomenal. From the super outbreak to the aerial photography and the aerial photography visual montages, everything he touched was crazy beautiful.”

Rossi says Fujita made waves in the science world by pushing boundaries.

“He was obsessed with figuring out how cycles work,” Rossi says. “He was a Type A personality, which makes sense in how he conducted all of his research.”

Read the story on Page 11.

Inside this week’s issue, there are reviews of the films “Spaceship Earth” and “How to Build a Girl,” both of which are streaming online. The reviews can be found on Pages 4 and 6, respectively.

The New Mexico Museum of Art has developed a lot of content for users online. Every day, there are social media posts and curriculum online to help parents with schooling at home. To read more, see Page 8.

As we near the two-month mark since stay-at-home orders were put into effect, I’d like to thank you again for keeping up with Venue and the Albuquerque Journal for your news.

Respectfully,
Adrian Gomez
Venue editor


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