When Hurricane Andrew rolled ashore in South Florida back in 1992, it destroyed $US27 billion worth of property. The storm was the third most destructive to ever hit the US, an outcome due in part to the insufficient building codes of the time. Structures simply weren't built to withstand the storm's fury. These days, Florida ensures that new construction can stand up to the next Andrew by torture-testing building materials against a massive Wall of Wind.
The $US8 million Wall of Wind (WoW) facility, developed at Florida International University's International Hurricane Research Center (IHRC), was funded by a coalition of public and private sector entities. Standing 4.5m tall and 6m wide, its array of a dozen 1.8m 700HP fans generates sustained wind speeds of 44km/h. It moves more than 85,000 cubic metres of air every minute — that's the equivalent of a category 5 storm. It accurately mimics wind turbulence via a unique flow management device and recreates driving rains through an ingenious water-injection system.
The current design is the result of five years of research by the FIU IHRC. The first prototype, built in 2007 by FIU's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, achieved wind speeds of 194km/h using a two-fan design. The next iteration, a stationary six-fan block built by RenaissanceRe, was big enough to envelop a full-scale single-storey home mockup.
"Our Wall of Wind is the only university research facility in the world that generates category 5-level wind speeds," Amir Mirmiran, the dean of FIU Engineering, told NBC Miami.
The Wall of Wind allows researchers from public institutions, the insurance industry, and private businesses to test new construction techniques and materials in a controlled environment before they have to face a real hurricane. As Erik Salna, Associate Director of FIU's International Hurricane Research centre, explained to WPTV, "We want to know: how do storms actually affect structures, like homes businesses. Being able to create conditions in a facility like this can really improve and mitigate homes." [WPTV - HuffPo - FIU 1, 2 - NBC Miami - Wikipedia]