(Inside Science TV) -- Hurricanes are among the costliest and deadliest natural disasters that affect the U.S. This year alone, 18 tropical storms and nine hurricanes are expected to descend on the country. Unfortunately, hurricanes are also notoriously difficult to study and predict.
“You need to know what’s going on right where the ocean meets the atmosphere,” said Brian Haus, a marine physicist at the University of Miami. But during an actual storm, the sensor-packed buoys used to measure vital data are often blown away and destroyed.
Now, Haus has a solution: a hurricane simulator that mimics the conditions of any storm. The simulator is made up of a fan, a tank and a wave generator.
“We can do controlled studies in here that we just can’t do out in the field,” explained Haus.
Inside this tank, researchers are able to study hurricane-force winds that blow over waves at different speeds and for different lengths of time. The fan is able to create winds up to 120 mph – the equivalent of a Category 3 storm.
“So we’re trying to create a more realistic ocean wave feel,” said Haus.
The simulator uses salt water to create realistic waves, sea spray and foam, all of which may affect how ocean water evaporates into the atmosphere. This simulator helps researchers learn more about how the heat from ocean waters energize a hurricane, which will in turn help meteorologists predict a storm's strength, and help public safety officials determine a safe course of action for people in the storm's path.
Haus says, “You can make a correct decision earlier to evacuate or not to evacuate.”
The University of Miami has broken ground on a second generation simulator that will be able to simulate Category 5 level hurricanes, with winds over 157 mph and 3D waves. This new, $45 million facility will be the only facility in the world with a wind-wave-storm surge simulator that can generate hurricane-force winds in a 3D test environment.