Sunday, 10 November 2019

The forgotten work of Johannes Letzmann

Estonia has produced many great minds over the course of its history but not all of them have received the recognition they deserved. One such man was Dr. Johannes Letzmann, a pioneering Estonian meterologist in the field of tornado research.  Letzmann's research in the 1920s and 1930s into severe storms and atmospheric vortices was far more extensive than anything which had been conducted in the United States at that time.

Johannes Peter Letzmann
19th July 1885 - 21st May 1971

Johannes Letzmann studied meteorology at the University of Tartu from 1906 - 1913. His career studying tornadoes began in 1918 when he met the esteemed scientist Alfred Wegener who introduced him to his copious European tornado climatological and other studies. In 1924 Letzmann was awarded a PhD by The University of Helsinki.

Letzmann conducted most of his research in Tartu however he did spend a year at the University of Graz with Wegener in 1928. Eleven years later Letzmann was offered the position of professor of meteorology at the University of Graz which he held until 1945. While there he built a "Forschungsstelle für atmosphärische Wirbel" (Research Centre for atmospheric whirls). After World War Two Letzmann could not return to Soviet-occupied Estonia so he chose to remain in Austria.

In 1962 Letzmann retired and spent the rest of his days in a hostel for Baltic Germans located in Langeroog, Germany. For decades Letzmann's work lay forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1990s.

In 1991 Richard E. Peterson from Texas Tech Universtiy published this 19-page biography about the immense value of Letzmann's work, complete with photographs, drawings and charts: Johannes Letzmann: A Pioneer in the Study of Tornadoes