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Writing a family story from your life experiences!

For those who have read many of my blogs in the past, I frequently mention about writing family stories about your ancestors. Perhaps these are stories you heard from previous generations and then took the time to write it down. It could be about your ancestor’s occupation or maybe some unusual event that happened in their lives. Then you went to prove the accuracy of that story and wrote it down as a blog, a story or perhaps wrote an article about what happened to that ancestor and why it stood out in that ancestors memory.

But have you ever thought about writing something about your own life for future generations? Someday, one of your descendants or even a great great great niece or nephew will want to know something about you. It could be something like heading to your favorite vacation spot every year and how much fun you had each season or catching a home run from one of your favorite players. It can be one event or several events. Perhaps something that you did for a living and one exciting thing that may have occurred in your career. Remember these are events that might seem rather trivial in your life but maybe very exciting reading many generations from now.

Many of you may know that before my genealogy career I spent almost 45 years as a television meteorologist. I worked at a couple of radio stations in Illinois prior to my time in television. I was hired on full time at WICS-TV after my internship in Springfield, Illinois. I later worked in Wichita, Kansas, Idaho Falls, Idaho and Green Bay, Wisconsin where I stayed with WFRV-TV for almost 30 years.

I can recall a number of interesting and exciting events that occurred in my career. I reported on many severe weather events and even had the opportunity to examine damage from the scene of some tornado and severe weather events. Some of these severe weather events were very tragic but it was also a learning experience for me. I had opportunities to meet and learn from many great professionals in the business. One such person was Dr. Theodore Fujita, the creator of the Fujita scale, a scale that measures the intensities of tornadoes.

Dr. Fujita worked for many years at the University of Chicago where he developed not only the measurement for tornado intensities, but developed theories on small but powerful downburst winds from thunderstorms called microburst. These microburst produce wind shear that can cause significant damage despite its smaller size. I knew of Dr. Fujita’s work in the past especially his theories on microbursts and I had the opportunity to hear him speak one time while living in Wichita. Dr. Fujita gained the nickname of “Mr. Tornado” from his work on the Fujita scale and his investigations from other major severe weather events. He accepted that title and shared it with us.

On 2 August 1985, Delta Airlines Flight 191, a Lockheed L1011, crashed about a mile short of the runway in Dallas, Texas. The crash killed a total 135 and injured 26 others. The NTSB and the FAA determined that the plane crashed as a result of the crew flying underneath a thunderstorm as it was producing microburst winds. The accompanied wind shear forced the aircraft into the ground about a mile short of the runway.[1]

Figure 1: Microburst, 11 May 1985, Idaho Falls, Idaho

On 11 May 1985 while I was living in Idaho Falls, Idaho, I noticed a thunderstorm buildup northeast of my house that showed winds forcing the clouds to the ground. This is referred to as a dry microburst. There is very little rain associated with dry microbursts. It is essentially very dry air being forced out of the thunderstorm and towards the ground. As the microburst hits the ground, the wind shear develops as the winds spread out in different directions. I quickly drove to the television station close to where the thunderstorm was located to determine the wind gust at that location. Our equipment showed a wind gust of 58 m.p.h. I thought that the picture and information obtained that day was quite fascinating. I actually had the picture framed in hung it on the wall near where my computer was located. And that’s where it stayed for a time.


Figure 2: Page 16, "The Microburst" by Dr. Theodore Fujita

After the L1011 accident in Dallas in August, I decided to send a copy of the picture to Dr. Fujita and listed all the information that I had obtained on that day in May. I figured I would receive a letter of thanks and probably not much beyond that from his office. However, A few weeks later, I received a phone call at work from Dr. Fujita who thanked me for sending the pictures and information I had sent to him. He indicated that the storm that I had observed that May was very similar to the thunderstorm that the L1011 flew through in August causing the crash in Dallas. He noted that the storm I saw was so small he could hardly see it on the satellite imagery. Dr. Fujita went on to say how intrigued he was with mountain thunderstorms since they generally produce these dry microbursts. He then asked if he could use the picture and information for his upcoming book, “The Microburst!”

As you can imagine, my mouth hit the ground. I believe my response was along the lines of “absolutely!” He then asked if I would send him any more events like the one in May of 1985. It just so happened we actually had a very active year. So I sent him a few more pictures from various storms that I witnessed out in the mountains of Idaho. We had several conversations the next couple of years regarding a few other events in my area.



Figure 3: Letter from Dr. Ted Fujita, 21 March 1986

On 21 July 1987, what was estimated as an F4 tornado touchdown on a mountainous area called the Teton Wilderness from a supercell thunderstorm which was passing over the Continental Divide. Once we had received the information as to what took place in this area, I called Dr. Fujita right away. He was able to receive arial photographs of the area showing the extensive tree damage in this area. He was able to determine the track and intensity of the storm based on these pictures and other information he had received from Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The altitude was close to 10,000 feet and Dr. Fujita later explained to me that this was the highest recorded touchdown in the United States at that time. He went on to say that the cloud base of the storm was right at the surface so any of the hikers or anyone who was in that area at the time, wouldn’t have even seen the tornado since it was in the middle of the storm. We refer to this as a mesocyclone rotation. Fortunately, no one was hurt. This storm debunked previous theories that tornadoes couldn’t occur in high altitudes.

The last time of spoke to Dr. Fujita was in October of 1987 just before I left Idaho for Wisconsin. I mentioned to him that I was leaving Idaho. Surprising to me was that he was disappointed that I was moving out of the area. “Too bad,” he said. “I really need you there!” Dr. Fujita was curious why I was moving to Wisconsin. He did thank me for providing him with the information I continually sent over to him those three years. I thanked him for all the knowledge I had learned from him and the information he provided me on these different events.

Figure 4: Tornado drawing by Dr. Theodore Fujita December 1985

One humorous event happened one time in one of our conversations. I always referred to Dr. Theodore Fujita as Dr. Fujita for who he was and the respect I had for him. As we were concluding a phone call, I said to him, “Dr. Fujita, I will continue to provide you with additional updates as soon as I receive them.” There was this pause and then he replied, “Please call me Ted! People I know call me by my first name.” After I hung up, I turned to one of my colleagues and said, “I get to call him Ted!”

I learned a lot about mountain meteorology while I was in Idaho and especially from my discussions with Ted Fujita. I couldn’t ask for a better instructor. This is a family story which I am very proud to share.


[1] “Remembering Delta Flight 191,” online database, (National Weather Service, Fort Worth/Dallas, Texas, https://www.weather.gov/fwd/delta191), citing the crash of Delta Flight 191 on 2 August 1985 and an explanation of the microburst that caused the crash, accessed 18 July 2021.

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