Generating tropical storm conditions with the flip of a switch!
Hurricanes are powerful natural disasters that can often cause billions of dollars in damages and result in the deaths of thousands of people each year, so being able to better forecast their strength and intensity is something researchers have been trying to do for years.
Fortunately, a US$45 million dollar lab was recently constructed at the University of Miami in order to study hurricanes up-close and personal, and it can generate hurricanes up to a category 5 (the strongest there is) with wind speeds faster than 252 km/h (157 mph).
The lab is called SUSTAIN, which stands for SUrge STructure Atmosphere INteraction, and it is 23 meters (75 feet) long, 2 meters (6.5 feet high), and can hold 114,000 litres (30,000 gallons) of water. It is also equipped with a 1,700 horsepower fan and a 12-paddle wave generator, which together can create all sorts of waves and weather conditions.
“We can create the equivalent of a hurricane with winds over 200 miles-per-hour,” SUSTAIN director and oceanographer Brian Haus told Popular Science. “That's an off-the-charts Category 5.”
The SUSTAIN lab can also be coded to recreate historical storms of the past, which allows scientists to measure wind and wave patterns for these hurricanes and gain more insight as to how and why they developed the way they did. They can analyze the differences between all categories of storms, which will hopefully help governments and authorities with handling the situation when it arises.
Not only can the lab be used to study hurricanes, it can also be used to test the resilience of model houses and buildings and study how environmental influences, such as sea spray, can affect the growth of a hurricane.
Scientists have been trying to understand what happens when the atmosphere and ocean meet in a really intense hurricane and how this impacts beaches and coastal communities.
The researchers responsible for SUSTAIN are also planning on launching 1,000 floating drifter devices into the Gulf of Mexico in an attempt to model how oil moves across the ocean — giving insight into how to clean up the next spill effectively.
SUSTAIN is proving to be a valuable lab for studying the oceans and some of their damaging and dangerous weather phenomena. “Intensity forecasting, especially rapid intensification and especially when that happens near the coastline — that remains our highest priority forecast improvement need,” said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami to The Associated Press.
The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.
Below is a video explaining SUSTAIN and it’s importance.