Wind simulator to hit Cat 4

Jul 21, 2008

Palm Beach Post--July 20, 2008


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

In an otherwise quiet corner of Florida International University, there comes a great roar – the sound of a howling wind that could rip apart mobile homes and leave coastal cities flooded.

Someone’s switched on the hurricane machine again.

"On any given day you can hear it on campus," said Carolyn Robertson, assistant director of the International Hurricane Research Center, which houses the goose-bump-giving Wall of Wind hurricane simulator at FIU’s campus west of Miami. "The current system is extremely loud."

But the powerful invention is about to get quieter, more durable and stronger thanks to a $10 million state grant the center will use to improve the device’s design.

The improved Wall of Wind, expected to be ready by next spring, will use 12 high-powered fans to whip up what feels like a monster hurricane.

Already able to generate sustained wind of 130 miles per hour, the machine will get a boost of at least 10 miles per hour, making its force equal to that of a Category 4 storm.

That means a range of products – from building materials and windows to roof tiles and street signs – can be put to the test under hurricane-force wind never before duplicated in a scientific setting.

Work on the project began in 2004, and the testing has yielded valuable information. The device, for example, has allowed engineers to see how roofing materials perform under stressful conditions and understand how horizontal rain penetrates a roof’s eaves, leading to mold.

The program’s main goal: Help South Florida companies and builders design products and structures that will survive storms.

The grant money, for research that can help Florida’s economy, also will go toward the construction of a new lab for the research center next to the National Hurricane Center on FIU’s campus.