Excerpt: 'Weather's Greatest Mysteries Solved!' by Randy Cerveny

Given his preferred methods of investigation, Fujita was not overly fond of computers. This is because inductive reasoning is the complete antithesis of computers, which by their very nature are the ultimate tools for deductive reasoning. The conclusions that computers reach are always inexorably constrained by the initial data fed into them. Computer analysts even have an interesting term that encapsulates the enormous problem inherent in this deductive aspect of computers: GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out. Because Fujita realized that potential flaw in computers could severely limit their usefulness, he therefore seldom used them in his research. A colleague of Fujita's, Chicago meteorologist Duane Stiegler, noted after Fujita's death that "he used to say that the computer doesn't understand these things."

So how did Fujita inductively attack the mystery of Eastern Flight 66's demise?

I was fortunate to have met the brilliant diminutive atmospheric scientist many years ago at a meteorology conference in Phoenix. He told me that some of his first thoughts about the Eastern Flight 66 crash related back to his days in Japan during World War II. He had been one of the first scientists to fly over the desolate city of Nagasaki just weeks after the atomic bombs had been dropped. With that vantage point, Fujita remembered the very particular shock wave– damage pattern of buildings and trees in that city -- a radial or starburst pattern emitting out from the central point of the city below where the atomic bomb had exploded. This was in marked contrast to the spiral type of damage that Fujita had observed countless times over the US Great Plains after tornadoes had devastated an area. Trees and buildings felled by tornadoes often demonstrate distinctive spiral patterns that indicate the violent rotation of winds.

But the damage pattern that Fujita saw with the Eastern Flight 66 crash debris was radiating from a central point, sometimes termed straight-line wind damage -- not spiral! So, Fujita inferred, Eastern Flight 66 was not brought down by flying through a tornado. Were there any other alternatives? Now, perhaps in our post-9/11 world, we might have concluded that the airliner must have been the target of a terrorist bomb -- after all, the damage patterns for the Flight 66 debris and the Nagasaki atom bomb were distinctly similar. Luckily for meteorology (and for future airliners), Fujita hadn't eliminated all of the other possible options.

One intriguing possibility that occurred to him was that perhaps a storm cell could sometimes create its own natural "air bomb." What if, he asked, a small storm somehow generated a sudden incredible downward blast of air -- perhaps with winds of a hundred miles an hour or more? Wouldn't such a blast create the same kind of straight-line damage pattern that one saw with the Eastern Flight 66 crash?

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