Hurricane

Grants to create Florida ‘hub’ for hurricane research

Researchers at Florida International University have won a $4.1 million National Science Foundation grant to expand work at their Wall of Wind hurricane simulator.
Researchers at Florida International University have won a $4.1 million National Science Foundation grant to expand work at their Wall of Wind hurricane simulator. Florida International University

The nation’s only research facilities to study the destructive power of potent hurricane and tornado winds, based at two Florida universities, have won nearly $8 million in research grants, administrators announced Thursday.

The grants, awarded to Florida International University and the University of Florida by the National Science Foundation, will allow the two public universities to advance research at their massive hurricane simulators and draw engineers from across the globe. The schools are part of a seven-lab network around the country studying natural hazards and the only two designated to explore extreme winds.

Winning the prestigious grants highlights “the groundbreaking work supported by Florida’s public universities,” Marshall Criser, chancellor of the state’s universities, said in a statement.

FIU, which received $4.1 million, boasts the nation’s only full-scale hurricane simulator, able to generate Category 5 winds over 157 mph. Using 12 massive fans, the Wall of Wind was designed to reproduce turbulence from the bottom layer of a hurricane, where winds encounter buildings, bridges, towers and other man-made structures. Speeds can be modeled to reflect movement over open land, cities or suburban neighborhoods.

The wind tunnel, developed and built over a decade and first unveiled on the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew in 2012, has led to a better understanding of, among other things, the destructive effects of wind-driven rain and how wind suction can rip apart roofs. Tests also led to revisions of state building codes for roof-mounted equipment.

“This NSF designation tells us we are on the right track and inspires us to push ahead with research-driven innovation to foster economic development and job creation,” FIU President Mark Rosenberg said in a statement.

UF will receive $3.6 million for its Terraformer wind tunnel, a simulator built to replicate powerful EF5 tornado winds over 200 mph on both land and water. Researchers at the Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment plan to use the grant to research the use of robots in construction, cutting back on the amount of physical testing needed to understand how buildings respond to high winds.

The two grants combined position Florida to become a leading hub of hurricane research, officials said.

Jenny Staletovich: 305-376-2109, @jenstaletovich

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