Seven years after constructing its initial prototype, Florida International University has lifted the lid from its latest and greatest machine: a 15-foot (4.6-m) tall Wall of Wind capable of generating 157-mph (70-m/s) winds. As such the machine is capable of simulating top-tier category five hurricanes according to the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale.
The Wall of Wind (WOW, for short) consists of a 12 electric fan-motors which are used to test the integrity of building designs, materials and roof-mounted equipment (such as solar panels and air conditioning units) in hurricane conditions. Small buildings can be placed on a turntable in front of the Wall so that they can be buffeted from all angles. Thanks to their variable frequency drives, the fans can be ramped up to a variety of wind speeds, controlled via computer from a nearby trailer.
The Wall is FIU's third-generation wind machine. In 2005 its wind engineering team built a 2-fan machine capable of generating 120-mph (54-m/s) winds, with an additional "water-injection system" to simulate horizontal rain—a feature that has been retained for subsequent machines. This was followed by the 6-fan "RenaissanceRe," built to test larger structures. The latest 12-fan wall has been built to meet demand for an even more powerful machine, capable of simulating hurricanes like Katrina and Andrew.
"This facility will not only fill the void where most current wind-structure experiments fail, it has the potential to be as influential to wind engineering as crash testing was to the automobile industry," FIU claims. The research facility claims that its research has already influenced policy, including new recommendations in the in the 2010 Florida Building Code. FIU claims that hurricanes have accounted for US$36 billion per year in damage and losses since 2000, up from $1.3 billion per year before 1990.
The video below shows the Wall of Wind in action, testing two roofs designed before and after Hurricane Andrew.
Source: Florida International University
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