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Portable hurricanes wind simulators

Just in time for the beginning of the hurricane season, the University of Florida (UF) engineers have built the world's largest portable hurricane wind simulator. Mounted on a trailer, the device is composed of eight 5-foot-tall industrial fans powered by four marine diesel engines. This simulator can produce winds of up to 130 mph, the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It was designed to learn about how hurricanes damage homes and how to make them more hurricane-resistant.
Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive

Just in time for the beginning of the hurricane season, the University of Florida (UF) engineers have built the world's largest portable hurricane wind simulator. Mounted on a trailer, the device is composed of eight 5-foot-tall industrial fans powered by four marine diesel engines. This simulator can produce winds of up to 130 mph, the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It was designed to learn about how hurricanes damage homes and how to make them more hurricane-resistant.

UF's new portable hurricane wind simulator

You can see above a photography of UF researcher Forrest Masters standing on this portable hurricane wind simulator. (Credit: Kristen Bartlett Grace/UF)

Of course, wind simulators are not new. But this new one is at the same time powerful and portable. This huge wind machine has been conceived by Forrest Masters, an assistant professor of civil and coastal engineering working for the Florida Coastal Monitoring Program. Here are some excerpts about that simulator which cost about $500,000 in parts and labor.

Mounted on a trailer, the industrial-sized behemoth is composed of eight 5-foot-tall industrial fans powered by four marine diesel engines that together produce 2,800 horsepower. To cool the engines, the system taps water from a 5,000-gallon tank aboard a truck that doubles as the simulator's tow vehicle.
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.

In "UF wind machine to blast homes in quest to reduce storm damage," Kimberly Miller provides additional details for the Palm Beach Post.

Traditionally, researchers would study hurricanes by measuring their damage on a single piece of a home, such as a window or door frame, and the tests would be conducted in a laboratory. "With the ability to go into a real neighborhood, we can use the equipment to evaluate real building systems that have been in place for 15 to 20 years," Masters said. "We're working closely with code officials and designers."

And as Miller reports, this is not the only portable wind machine built by Florida universities to measure and test hurricane-strength winds. For example, Florida International University in Miami has developed its "Wall of Wind" which has two V-8 engines. In a short article, the New York Times reports about this other hurricane wind simulator (free registration, permanent link). Here are some excerpts.

According to Stephen P. Leatherman, director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University, it can be difficult to get real-life results if your wind tunnel is so small you have to scale buildings down to the size of a birdhouse. "You can't scale gravity," Dr. Leatherman said. "You can't scale shingles and learn about how they are failing."
So he and his colleagues are "bringing the hurricane into the lab," as he put it, with an array of two fans, each 17 feet in diameter with a 1,000-horsepower-plus motor. The machine also has a water feature, to reproduce the effects of storm-driven rain. Financed by the State of Florida, the equipment can produce 120-mile-per-hour winds -- the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane. The goal is to use the machine to determine with precision how buildings fail during storms.

As said Kurt Gurley, another associate professor in UF's civil and coastal engineering department: "Ultimately, the hurricane simulator will give us the ability to observe the failures and produce and design things better. We'll know what works, and won't just have to cross our fingers and hope."

Sources: University of Florida News, May 30, 2007; Kimberly Miller, The Palm Beach Post, May 30, 2007; Cornelia Dean, The New York Times, May 29, 2007; and various websites

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