Massive tank reveals hurricanes’ inner workings

Jun 12, 2015

by Alexandra Witze

On a palm-lined island off the coast of Florida, oceanographers have built a giant indoor tank to simulate the howling winds and crashing waves of the most severe hurricanes — those labelled category 5. It is the world’s largest experiment to understand the physics of devastating tropical storms.

University of Miami researchers began working with the new tank this month. What they learn could help to improve predictions of hurricane strength, as well as which buildings are likely to survive the most powerful waves.

“We wanted to go to the extreme, category-5-equivalent so we can understand what really happens when things start to get interesting,” says Brian Haus, an oceanographer at the University of Miami and director of the new tank, called SUSTAIN (for Surge–Structure–Atmosphere Interaction Facility).

Hurricane season for the Atlantic and central Pacific oceans begins on 1 June. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts an above-average number of storms for the central Pacific and below average for the Atlantic, thanks to the ongoing El Niño weather phenomenon, which affects wind patterns.

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