Building an indoor hurricane at the University of Miami

This is how Hurricane Isaac looked on Tuesday, as it made landfall on America's Gulf Coast. If you've never been to the Gulf of Mexico, here is a key fact you should know: The water there is warm. While Pacific coastal waters might be in the 50s during August, and the central Atlantic coast is pulling temperatures in the 60s and 70s, the water in the Gulf of Mexico is well into the 80s.

And that makes a difference. We know that water temperature affects hurricane strength. But we don't understand the particulars of how or why at a detail level. To learn more about this (and other factors that make each hurricane an individual), researchers at the University of Miami are building a simulation machine. When it's complete, it will be a key tool in improving forecasts.

Peter Sollogub, Associate Principal at Cambridge Seven, says the hurricane simulator is comprised of three major components:
The first is a 1400-horsepower fan originally suited for things like ventilating mine shafts. To create its 150mph winds, it will draw energy from the campus's emergency generator system, which is typically used during power outages caused by storms.

The second part is a wave generator which pushes salt water using 12 different paddles. Those paddles, timed to move at different paces and rates, can create waves at various sizes, angles and frequency, creating anything from a calm, organized swell to sloppy chaotic seas.

The third aspect of the tank is the tank itself, which is six meters in width by 20 meters in length by two meters high. It's made of three-inch thick clear acrylic so that the conditions inside can be observed from all sides.

Read more about the hurricane simulator at Popular Science


  1. Hardly an “indoor hurricane”: it’s the size of a Dutch barge.

    But that should be big enough to get some good data on  ocean/wind interaction.

    1.  But then you miss out on our local beach games like shipspotting and debris hunting.

      But the water is indeed warm. I grew up on the Gulf and I couldn’t believe how cold the water is in California.

  2. This is actually the *second* hurricane simulator on Key Biscayne. The long lost (okay closed in 1991) Planet Ocean attraction across the street from UM used to have a “walk-through hurricane room” calibrated to scare the bejesus out of fourth-graders.

    They also had a *touchable iceberg*. Damn, I miss being a kid in South Florida in the Seventies.

  3. Don’t you have to match the Reynolds number to something resembling what it would be for a Hurricane to get useful data? The size of the tank is orders of Magnitude below the size of a hurricane, so don’t you need wind speeds orders of Magnitude higher?

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