Here's an innovative way to recreate the effects of a hurricane without getting the hurricane itself: scientists at the University of Florida have built a portable wind and rain simulator that can simulate a hurricane environment in a laboratory setting. Mounted on a trailer and armed with eight industrial fans powered by four marine diesel engines (700-horsepower each), this device can reach wind speeds equivalent to those of Hurricane Katrina.
Each industrial fan is five-feet tall and weighs approximately 1,200 pounds. A hydraulic drive system designed by Linde Hydraulics Corporation and Cunningham Fluid Power controls the transfer of power from the engines to each of the fans. Hydraulic pumps powered by the engines push fluid through the motors located in the fans, which causes them to begin spinning.A custom-built duct will allow the operator to accelerate the wind coming from the fans to a desired speed. The wind is directed by rudders located at the end of the duct, which themselves house a water-injection system that helps simulate wind-driven air. "The wind flow that comes out of such a device should be one that reproduces reasonably well the features of real atmospheric flows generated by hurricanes," says Emil Simiu, a research professor at the International Hurricane Research Center, at Florida International University.
"The portable wind simulator is an apparatus that can produce sufficient wind and wind-driven rain at a large scale to damage full-size structures, and that allows us to conduct experiments where we look at what worked and what didn't work," says Forrest Masters, an assistant professor of civil and coastal engineering and lead designer of the simulator.
The device will be used on vacant homes donated by the state to test the strength of building products, urban landscapes and any other structure that might be affected during a severe storm. Masters and his colleagues will specifically be analyzing the effects of the device on corners and edges where a building's walls converge and at how to keep cladding on windows, doors and roofs to hinder water intrusion. They also plan on testing utilities, infrastructure systems and road signage typically affected during hurricane preparations.
"This device will really help us be able to better understand storm-related problems [with building construction] and is certainly important for the rapid advancement of technology to become more hurricane resistant," says Rick Dixon, the executive director of the Florida Building Commission.