Weather Facts

What is the F-scale?

Dr. T. Theodore Fujita developed a damage scale (Fujita 1971, Fujita and Pearson 1973) for winds, including tornadoes, which is supposed to relate the degree of damage to the intensity of the wind. This scale was the result. The F-scale should be used with great caution. Tornado wind speeds are still largely unknown; and the wind speeds on the F-scale have never been scientifically tested and proven. Different winds may be needed to cause the same damage depending on how well-built a structure is, wind direction, wind duration, battering by flying debris, and a bunch of other factors. Also, the process of rating the damage itself is largely a judgment call -- quite inconsistent and arbitrary (Doswell and Burgess, 1988). Even meteorologists and engineers highly experienced in damage survey techniques may come up with different F-scale ratings for the same damage. Even with all its flaws, the F-scale is the only widely used tornado rating method, and probably will remain so until ground-level winds can be measured in most tornadoes.