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USGNN Original StoryMembers View Hurricane Simulator Up Close

The University of Florida brought its mobile windstorm simulator to the fall meeting of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, held in Orlando this week, so members could see the world's largest portable hurricane simulator of its kind.

The simulator-calibrated recently to create actual recorded wind-driven rain scenarios-provides a realistic evaluation of building products and test methods intended for hurricane-prone regions.

AAMA members were interested to see the hurricane simulator in action.

"We're bringing the lab to the hurricane then bringing the hurricane to the lab," says Forrest Masters, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil and coastal engineering at the University of Florida (UF). He adds that the university has the largest collection of field observation equipment in the world.

The apparatus is mounted on a trailer and composed of eight 5-foot-high industrial fans powered by four marine engines that collectively produce 2,800 horsepower. It is designed to blast building mock-ups with winds of up to 130 mph-Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale-and high-pressure water jets that mimic torrential wind-driven rain of up to 35inches per hour.

AAMA is a huge supporter of the project. In fact, the association invested $60,000 recently to donate a Precipitation Imaging Probe (PIP) to UF (only ten of these exist), to further the university's hurricane research, which includes studying wind-driven rain.

"The project is taking on a whole new direction due to AAMA," says Masters.

"This is the heart of the matter [wind-driven rain]. We're looking at it and how to prevent that."

Although most residential and light commercial properties that are built in compliance with current codes will physically withstand hurricane winds, water intrusion through windows and walls remains a recurring issue. When rain penetrates these exterior building products and their assemblies, it often causes significant interior damage, occupant displacement, business interruption and extensive restoration expenses, according to AAMA.

"The information gathered will help us ensure performance of the windows, doors and wall assemblies under real-world hurricane conditions, and ultimately, protect more people and properties from costly damages," says AAMA president Rich Walker.

Though AAMA members witnessed this in a controlled setting, that's not usually the case. "This is a fairly risky endeavor," says Masters. "We're setting up equipment in 60- to 70-mph winds." He then added jokingly, "We always save seats for industry folks."

CLICK HERE to see video footage taken of the hurricane simulator.

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