The 'Wall of Wind' Can Blow Away Buildings at Category 5 Hurricane Strength

Fri, 03 Jun 2022 05:00:00 GMT
Scientific American - Technology

The test facility is helping engineers design safer homes—but it’s not powerful enough to mimic the...

These Category 5 winds can shatter a test building in the blink of an eye.

When engineers built the Wall of Wind test facility 10 years ago at Florida International University, it was inspired by Hurricane Andrew, a monster of a storm that devastated South Florida in 1992.

Now, we're seeing the likes of Hurricane Dorian, which shredded neighborhoods in the Bahamas with 184 mph winds in 2019, and Hurricane Patricia, with winds clocked at 215 mph off the coast of Mexico in 2015.

There is currently only one life-size test facility at a U.S. university capable of generating Category 5 winds, currently the most powerful level of hurricane.

A roof is subjected to uplift force during a storm, so wind hitting the surface of the building needs to be able to escape.

Storms can create powerful vortices - winds that swirl almost like a corkscrew at a building's edge - that can strip away roofing material and eventually lift the roof itself.

One innovation uses a horizontal wind turbine along the edge of a roof to diffuse the wind and generate power at the same time, a double benefit.

The shape of buildings can also either create weaknesses or help deflect wind.

Hurricane shutters also block entry points where the wind can penetrate and trigger catastrophic failure.

Experiments we conducted have shown how an edge system - the metal elements between walls and the roof - that is installed just half an inch too high or low can prematurely fail at low winds, even though the system was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

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