We’re currently in the middle of what tends to be a peak period for hurricanes and tropical storms in both the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.
For example, we’re almost one year on from the devastating Hurricane Sandy, which crashed along the eastern seaboard – one of the deadliest and costliest storms to hit the United States.
Meteorologists and scientists have spent countless hours studying how and why hurricanes form and developing technology that allows us to monitor their strength and track their projected path.
The latest effort comes from researchers at the University of Miami, who are replicating hurricanes in their lab. They want to understand how dangerous storms develop and intensify in the open ocean in order to better predict their impact when they hit land.
Bringing Hurricanes From the Ocean to the Lab
They’re doing it using the Air-Sea Interaction Saltwater Tank (ASIST) – a giant turbine and wave machine that allows them to generate huge “man-made” hurricanes in a controlled environment.
Specifically, they’re trying to gain a better understanding of how high winds interact with the surface of the ocean. As Brian Haus, Professor of Applied Marine Physics at the university, says, “Trying to do a forecast of hurricane intensity, it’s apparent that we have to do a better job of understanding what the surface between the air that’s spinning and the water actually looks like.”
And ASIST takes current technology one step further.
While a variety of satellite data and weather-gauging instruments can pinpoint water temperature and wind shear, Haus says the ASIST tank’s bevy of digital sensors and lasers gives the researchers access to information unavailable on the open water during a storm.
For example, here’s what a Category 3 hurricane would look like if you were standing in its path…
Technology vs. Nature
Haus says, “The studies that we do here in trying to understand how and what drives a hurricane can be used in the next generation of models, hurricane models that will try to incorporate more and more details about the real surface.”
Indeed, the university is now building a unique new simulator – the only one in the world that will be able to replicate the winds and waves of a colossal Category 5 hurricane.
Haus says the new tank will be six times wider than the current ASIST tank, giving his team new insights into how these storms evolve.
As for our ability to better protect people and property, though… well, we’re still a long way from finding that kind of technology. The old adage is still true – you can’t fight the force of nature.
Ahead of the tape,