Aug. 21 - Twenty years after Hurricane Andrew decimated South Florida, Florida International University in Miami has opened a state-of-the-art hurricane simulator to study the destructive effects of major storm systems. Called the 'Wall of Wind', it can replicate the kinds of weather systems that wreak havoc in communities around the world while hopefully providing new ideas for hurricane-resistant buildings. Ben Gruber attended the opening.
Researchers at Florida International University call it the "Wall of Wind", a hurricane simulator that can replicate the destructive force of a Category 5 hurricane, ripping houses apart with wind speeds upwards of 157 miles per hour. Arindam Chowdhury, the director of the research facility, says that while the Wall of Wind is built for destruction, it is designed ultimately to save lives by producing data his team can use for building, stronger, safer towns and cities. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ARINDAM CHOWDHURY, DIRECTOR OF WALL OF WIND FACILITY AT FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We want to also learn the failure modes of the structures. How they fail, why they fail. From that knowledge you can come up with design methods or retrofits that you can do to building to make them stronger so that this kind of damage does not happen in future hurricanes. So the ultimate goal is to strengthen the buildings and the buildings codes so you can me a hurricane resilient community." The researchers run the Wall of Wind from a control centre. An array of cameras and sensors record a variety of data, from the impact of wind driven rain to the pressure a roof can withstand before it begins to disintegrate. Professor Peter Irwin says the simulator is equipped with 12 industrial fans which can produce 3 million cubic feet of air per minute. It would take nearly 8000 leaf blowers to produce a similar flow rate. Irwin says the Wall of Wind takes hurricane research to an unprecendented level of power and sophistication. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PETER IRWIN, PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We test building systems as opposed to just individual components and because you can test a system to destruction you really do learn how it fails which than allows you ask where was the weak point? What can we do to improve that? And you can test it again and you may find another weak point at a higher speed and make that better so it allows you to learn how a structure stays together in a very strong wind." The unveiling of the Wall of Wind coincides with the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew - a deadly hurricane that caused more than 27 billion dollars in damage in 1992. The researchers hope that by re-creating hurricanes like Andrew in a laboratory, they can provide data that will ensure that buildings are better equipped to withstand the deadly forces of major hurricanes in the future.