Massive Wall of Wind machine mimics real hurricanes to better protect the community

Author: Nikki Sheaks Photographer: Erik Randlov
Published: Updated:

To those of us living in Southwest Florida, talking about a “wall of wind” might bring up memories of Hurricane Irma or Ian– or even a bad rain storm.

However, for researchers at Florida International University, it’s about WoW—the Wall of Wind—unveiled in 2012, 20 years after Hurricane Andrew wiped out Homestead and parts of South Florida.

The Weather Authority Meteorologist Nikki Sheaks traveled to FIU in Miami to give viewers a firsthand look at how WoW works and how it benefits everyone.

wall of wind
Wall of Wind, Credit: WINK News

The massive 12-fan system of the Wall of Wind is quite a sight to see and feel.

“We’re on a national stage when it comes to research on wind engineering projects,” explained Erik Salna, Associate Director and Meteorologist at FIU’s International Hurricane Research Center.

The WoW delivers valuable information to better protect and build homes, schools and infrastructure from hurricanes.

“Anything that gets affected by wind, we want them to be more aerodynamic and more resilient so there’s less damage,” added Salna.

The massive machine has improved how we build in the Sunshine State since 2012.

“[Hurricane] Andrew was the reason this whole program got started,” Salna said.

wall of wind
Hurricane Andrew, Credit: NOAA

As Southwest Floridians know, we need strong, sturdy structures to ride out a storm or to have a place to call home after one hits.

“We have been able to enhance some of the building codes,” said Salna. “We have some of the strongest building codes in Florida.”

So how does the powerful weathermaker work? Each fan is six feet in diameter and weighs 15,000 pounds.

It’s as close to what Mother Nature can do in real life. Erik Salna, FIU International Hurricane Research Center

It uses the same amount of power needed to electrify 2,000 homes to create sustained winds stronger than we felt in Hurricane Ian. It reaches Category 5 wind speeds of 157 miles per hour.

“We want the wall of wind to replicate a real hurricane and two things, first of all, the speed. The fans themselves will get us to category one, so the engineers have to develop a contraction zone on the other side of the fans to speed up and accelerate the air. That’s what got us to 157,” Salna explained.

Panels on the grounds replicate the friction created when hurricane-strength winds move over land, ensuring the wind strengthens with height, like a real hurricane. Water can also be added to the tests to recreate raindrops the size associated with a slow-moving storm.

“If you have a lot of rain in the wind, yes, that is a more dense airflow, rain hitting a window or shutter,” said Salna, “so they are looking at studies to see how much more force that added rain can add, and that’s critical to knowing if that window will hold up and shutter.”

Researchers collect the data from the tests from the control room. Then, the process of updating building codes begins.

“That’s what makes the research so valuable, ’cause we have real hurricane conditions,” said Salna.

Leading to stronger, safer homes to protect you and your family.

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