Hurricanes are, by many measures, the most devastating of all catastrophic natural hazards affecting the U.S. In economic terms alone, the average annual loss of $1.3 billion recorded pre-1990 (in constant 2006 dollars) has spiraled to $35.8 billion post-2000.
A first-of-its-kind wind machine at Florida International University, dubbed the Wall of Wind, is now enabling full-scale testing of entire structures engulfed by simulated hurricane-force winds, wind-driven rain and flying debris. The prototype two-fan mobile Wall of Wind could generate up to 120-mph winds; the new, larger six-fan machine can generate winds up to 130 mph and sufficient wind field size to engulf a single-story residence.
Researchers expect the Wall of Wind will significantly reduce threats to safety and property by helping homeowners and the construction industry identify and remedy weakness in existing buildings. It could potentially be as effective for wind engineering as crash testing has been for the automobile industry, according to Sea Grant researcher Arindam Chowdhury, director of FIU’s Laboratory for Wind Engineering Research.