At the push of a button, researchers at Florida International University can have a hurricane on their hands: the school's massive new Wall of Wind machine can create up to Category 5 hurricane-force winds and rain.
The Wall of Wind has 12 700-horsepower fans, each 6 feet tall and capable of generating wind speeds up to 157 miles per hour. The $8 million machine at the school's International Hurricane Research Center helps test the endurance of new structures and products built to adhere to the stricter Florida building codes that followed the damage from Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
“This facility in many ways is part of the Andrew legacy,” Arindam Chowdhury, director of wind engineering research at the IHRC, said in a statement. “Here we come very close to recreating Andrew in a controlled environment so that we can help mitigate damage in our community and in all those communities in the path of hurricanes in the U.S. and around the world.”
Hurricane Andrew was the third Category 3 storm to hit the United States. Plowing through South Florida, it left hundreds of thousands of residents homeless and destroyed just as many homes.
On its first public viewing, the Wall of Wind put one home built under codes acceptable before Hurricane Andrew and another adhering to post-Andrew codes to the test. Cameras captured the pre-hurricane home's roof blowing off, while the post-hurricane home stayed put.
FIU said the Wall of Wind, which took 5 years to build, was funded by both public and private dollars.