For homebuilders, constructing a house that can withstand hurricane winds can be tricky, because the only way to run a test is to wait for a major storm to develop. Florida International University just changed all that with its Wall of Wind, a hurricane research facility with 12 massive fans that can brew up wind speeds of up to 157 m.p.h — the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane. Five years in the making, the $8-million facility is now up and running, and researchers hope that the lessons learned at the Wall of Wind can help prevent serious property loss the next time a major hurricane hits the southern US.
It’s no coincidence that the Wall of Wind was completed on the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew; the category 5 hurricane destroyed more than 125,000 homes in southern Florida, making it one of the worst hurricanes in the state’s history. But it wasn’t the only hurricane to cause major property damage — over the past 12 years, hurricanes have caused $36 billion per year in losses for U.S. coastal communities. And that’s exactly the sort of destruction that the folks behind the Wall of Wind are hoping to prevent.
FIU wind engineering team first created a prototype in 2005 that consisted of a two-fan unit that could generate winds of up to 120 mpg. Later, they constructed a larger six-fan Wall of Wind — the precursor to the current model. And in the latest incarnation, they’ve doubled the number of 6-foot-tall, 700-horsepower fans to a dozen, which can create a deafening burst of wind.
With the Wall of Wind, researchers will be able to test different building construction materials to see if they are able to withstand the abuse of category-5 hurricane winds and water. “The bottom line is the research we are doing here will not only save lives but also reduce property losses and therefore premiums,” Shahid Hamid, director of the research center’s laboratory for insurance, economic and financial research, told the Daily Mail.