World largest hurricane simulator built to improve forecasting

By Dania Vargas Austryjak

Research tool that might help save lives.

In the past decades, hurricane tracking has improved, but being able to determine a hurricane’s intensity has been something of a weak spot for forecasters. But now, the world’s largest indoor hurricane simulator is fully up and ready to help scientists and meteorologists get a better understanding of the strength of hurricanes.

The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences invested US $15 million to create a wind and wave machine - basically a large tank (measuring 20 ft. wide and 66 feet long) - officially known as SUSTAIN (SUrge-STructure-Atmosphere INteraction Facility), the world's largest indoor hurricane simulator. It was installed at the Marine Technology & Life Sciences Seawater Complex, to help meteorologists predict how strong a hurricane can get, which has usually been a gray area of sorts in the field. It may also provide information on damage levels for coastal constructions.

The tank contains 38,000 gallons of water (fresh or salt). It looks like a huge aquarium with no fish and has a wave generator with 12 different paddles to create different wave variations along with a fan with a 1,700 horsepower engine capable of reaching a wind speed of 156 miles per hour, recreating the power of a Category 5 hurricane. The lead scientist for the project, Brian Haus, stated that a “key component of SUSTAIN will be to improve hurricane intensity forecasting," as quoted in an article from Business Insider.

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Paul Wilson, Vice President of model development at Risk Management Solutions in London believes this tool could also be helpful in “understanding how buildings respond to extreme weather events”. Haus himself explained that most of the existing building codes and models for coastal areas do not take into account real information about what happens “in these conditions,” which makes this new technology quite helpful.

SUSTAIN can be of great help, as scientists can learn and transmit the information to meteorologists who can then warn people by providing accurate forecasts, which in turn could lead to saving lives, prevent suffering and devastation.

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