Sept. 9 - October marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, one of the deadliest and costliest storms ever to hit the United States. In an effort to better understand these types of hurricanes, researchers at the University of Miami are replicating them in their laboratories. They want to learn how these dangerous storms form and intensify out on the open ocean to better predict their impact when they reach land. Ben Gruber reports.
This is what a category 3 hurricane would looks like, if you were standing in its path. But unlike hurricanes on the open ocean, this one is man-made, at a laboratory at the University of Miami. It's called the Air-Sea interaction Salt Water tank or ASIST. A giant turbine and wave maker combine to generate powerful storms that researcher Brian Haus and his team can study in a controlled setting. The researchers are hoping to find clues as to how and why big storms intensify…and how winds interact with the ocean surface. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BRIAN HAUS, PROFESSOR OF APPLIES MARINE PHYSICS, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, SAYING: "The waves on the water are like sandpaper on a hurricane as it tries to spin over that. So trying to do a forecast of hurricane intensity we believe and it is being apparent that we have to do a better job to understand what the surface between the air that spinning and the water actually looks like in order to get a better hurricane intensity forecast." Factors like wind shear and water temperature can be gauged using satellite data and weather instruments, but Haus says the tank - with its suite of digital sensors and lasers - gives them access to information unavailable on the open sea during a storm. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BRIAN HAUS, PROFESSOR OF APPLIED MARINE PHYSICS, UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, SAYING: "The physical process studies that we do here in trying to understand how and what drives a hurricane can be used in the next generation of models, hurricane models that will try to incorporate more and more details about the real surface." The University is now building a new simulator, the only one in the world capable of replicating the winds and waves of a category 5 hurricane. Haus says the new tank will be six times as wide as the ASIST tank, giving his team new insights into how these storms evolve and ultimately, how property and lives can be better protected.