Hurricane Machine will Help Save Lives

Just as another hurricane season is beginning, researchers from the University of Florida unveiled the world’s largest portable hurricane wind and rain simulator. Unlike meteorologists who usually use computer simulators, the University of Florida engineers developed an actual industrial scale wind machine, Equipped with eight 5-foot-tall industrial turbines and powered by a 2800 horsepower engine, the simulator is capable of producing the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane on a small scale. The new machine will help engineers create more realistic simulations on mock houses testing the effects of winds at speeds of up to 130 mph and coming up with ways of making the houses more resistant.

The one of a kind, $500,000 portable simulator uses four marine diesel engines, which utilize a water cooling technique relying on a 5,000-gallon water tank. Unlike previous, smaller simulators, the new simulator uses an innovative hydraulic system, rather than chains or mechanical drive trains, to transfer power from the engines to the fans. At full power, the fans turn at about 1,800 revolutions per minute, producing wind speeds of about 100 mph. A custom-built duct reduces the space available for the air to flow through ratcheting up the wind speeds to a potential 130 mph. Steering vanes allow the engineers to direct the air wherever they want it to blow.

The new simulator is also capable of modeling huge amounts of rain which can also influence the dynamics of a hurricane. Implanted in the vanes, water jets can simulate the most extreme rainfall of up to 35 inches per hour.

In recent years, several powerful hurricanes including Hurricane Emily, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Wilma have hit U.S. coasts. These Category 5 hurricanes (with winds reaching up to 156 mph) have caused several hundred billion dollars worth of damage and have caused more than 2000 deaths. Finding better ways of protecting civilian population from such storms should reduce damage and casualties in the future.

More information can be found on the University of Florida website.

Image: University of Florida wind engineering researcher Forrest Masters stands on a newly completed, fully portable hurricane wind simulator (Credit: University of Florida).