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Giant Lab Replicates Category 3 Hurricanes 97

Posted by timothy
from the indoor-skydiving dept.
Pickens writes "The WSJ reports that a new $40 million research center built by the Institute for Business & Home Safety in Richburg, SC features a massive test chamber as tall as a six-story building that can hold nine 2,300-square-foot homes on a turntable where they can be subjected to tornado-strength winds generated by 105 giant fans to simulate a Category 3 hurricane. The goal is to improve building codes and maintenance practices in disaster-prone regions even though each large hurricane simulation costs about $100,000. The new IBHS lab will be the first to replicate hurricanes with winds channeling water through homes and ripping off roofs, doors and windows. The new facility will give insurers the ability to carefully videotape what happens as powerful winds blow over structures instead of relying on wind data from universities or computer simulations. The center will also be used to test commercial buildings, agriculture structures, tractor-trailers, wind turbines, and airplanes."
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Giant Lab Replicates Category 3 Hurricanes

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  • Tornado Strength? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chrisq (894406) on Friday October 22, 2010 @08:10AM (#33984216)
    Tornado Strength? I think that's rather more than the Category 3 hurricane!
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday October 22, 2010 @08:15AM (#33984240) Journal
      It does seem a very odd description, more likely to have crawled out of somebody's imagination than the numbers; but my understanding is that wind speeds vary a great deal under tornado conditions, which means that it is probably accurate, albeit in a way that is either irrelevant or actively misleading.

      The actual cone of the tornado is extremely fast, quite powerful, and is where all the crazy stuff happens(large objects being lifted, spare I-beams getting shoved neatly through trees, etc.) Surrounding that is an area of air disturbance, with strength decreasing as you get further out.
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        I was in a hurricane in the early '70s, and in a tornado in 2006. A category 1 tornado is a gentle breeze compared to an F2 tornado. I journaled about it here. [slashdot.org]

        • by wowbagger (69688) on Friday October 22, 2010 @09:20AM (#33984554) Homepage Journal

          "A category 1 tornado is a gentle breeze compared to an F2 tornado. I journaled about it here."

          I think you meant

          "A category 1 hurricane is a gentle breeze compared to an F2 tornado. I journaled about it here."

          And I agree. One of my co-workers in Scotland was commenting that they had a force 7 gale going there. I looked it up. 31-38 mph winds. We have a word for that in Kansas:

          Spring.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            And I agree. One of my co-workers in Scotland was commenting that they had a force 7 gale going there. I looked it up. 31-38 mph winds. We have a word for that in Kansas:

            We have a word for that here where I live near The Geysers; we live in a structure which is known commonly wherever it occurs as "the mouth of the dragon". 31-38 mph winds means that it's the afternoon.

          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            Yes, you're correct. I meant to say a category 1 hurricane, not tornado.

          • But did your co-worker make that comment in force 7 Gaelic? Bloody incomprehensible, that stuff.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Kjella (173770)

            And I agree. One of my co-workers in Scotland was commenting that they had a force 7 gale going there. I looked it up. 31-38 mph winds. We have a word for that in Kansas: Spring.

            A gale is really just the step after breeze (force 6 is strong breeze), you go through all the gale levels (7-9) then all the storm levels (10-12) before you get to a hurricane. Not sure where he's from in Scotland for a gale to be all that special, they should be getting roughly the same weather as us here in Norway over the North Sea and it's not that uncommon.

            Even though storms have the full force of the Atlantic to build on, the strongest hurricane we've measured here in Norway was in 1992 and it was on

          • by mldi (1598123)

            "A category 1 tornado is a gentle breeze compared to an F2 tornado. I journaled about it here."

            I think you meant

            "A category 1 hurricane is a gentle breeze compared to an F2 tornado. I journaled about it here."

            And I agree. One of my co-workers in Scotland was commenting that they had a force 7 gale going there. I looked it up. 31-38 mph winds. We have a word for that in Kansas:

            Spring.

            A semi-calm spring day. Winds in the 40s without an accompanying storm isn't rare. Straight 70+ mph winds during a storm is very common. I'll never get used to that (neighboring you in Nebraska, recently moved here).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gartogg (317481)

        This will be used to refine vulnerability functions for modeling. The buildings can't/won't be built to withstand the forces, but they can reduce the insurers uncertainty about how much damage will be caused, and therefore how much to charge for an insurance policy.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          I'd suspect that it is a mixture of things. Obviously, insurers want to refine their models so that absolutely everyone is paying their exact actuarial cost + profit; but they also have an interest in the safety of their clients in less severe circumstances. If there are cheap; but not necessarily obvious, things that can be done to decrease costs in more minor circumstances, it is mutually beneficial for insurance companies to offer an incentive of part of their expected savings to their clients. The insur
          • by gartogg (317481)

            Do you work for FM Global? That's what they preach for a living; it's true, and a fair point, and most builders don't have the correct incentives to build homes and buildings with risk in mind. Once it's sold, developers get to pocket profits.

            I'd actually be more interested in what this does to regulatory requirements for buildings across the country.

    • Re:Tornado Strength? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kjella (173770) on Friday October 22, 2010 @08:30AM (#33984310) Homepage

      Category 3 hurricane is Winds (1 min sustained winds): 111-130 mph [noaa.gov]
      Category F2 tornado is Significant Tornado: 112 - 157 mph [datarecovery.com]

      The hurricane scale goes higher - a level F3 tornado (158 - 206 mph) would be a category 5 hurricane (>155 mph) and there's no match for a F4 or F5 tornado. And thank you very much for that...

      • by mldi (1598123)

        Category 3 hurricane is Winds (1 min sustained winds): 111-130 mph [noaa.gov] Category F2 tornado is Significant Tornado: 112 - 157 mph [datarecovery.com]

        The hurricane scale goes higher - a level F3 tornado (158 - 206 mph) would be a category 5 hurricane (>155 mph) and there's no match for a F4 or F5 tornado. And thank you very much for that...

        It should be noted that the scale used now is the Enhanced Fujita (EF), not the Fujita scale (F). The numbers change a little with that.

        EF2: 113-135MPH

        EF3: 136-165MPH

        Information on the new scale here. [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:Tornado Strength? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cowscows (103644) on Friday October 22, 2010 @08:31AM (#33984318) Journal

      Yeah, generally you don't even try to build to withstand a direct hit from a tornado, it'd just be way too expensive. The odds of any particular building getting smacked by a tornado are fairly small, and even a big tornado affects a much smaller area than your average landfall hurricane.

      Designing to survive hurricane force winds is much more feasible, and it's cool to watch some actual experimentation. Note from the video, that right before the house on the left collapses, the front door is pushed open. Once the wind gets into the house, it needs to go somewhere, and it basically lifts the house up allowing it to fall over. You have to bolt the whole house together vertically, from the foundation all the way up to the rafters.

      • Re:Tornado Strength? (Score:5, Informative)

        by gartogg (317481) <sdaman@mi[ ]pring.om.tld ['nds' in gap]> on Friday October 22, 2010 @09:10AM (#33984496) Homepage Journal

        To clarify, the smallest hurricanes have a larger geographical footprint than the largest tornadoes. A hurricane cannot form in a small area, and a tornado cannot be that large; the difference is in intensity. Tornadoes have much faster winds. Despite this, hurricanes are a larger source of damage.

        In fact, the largest losses to insurance due to tornadoes+hail+wind in a given storm is just over $2bn, which is a big yawn compared to a large hurricane loss. It wouldn't make the top 20. Average loss per year for insurers due to hurricanes in the US has been higher than that, in the last 15 years or so. (And insurers are better at not paying claims for hurricanes, since "storm surge" is excluded due to it being flood.)

        • by Alioth (221270)

          And hurricanes often spawn a very large number of tornadoes. It would be a rare hurricane that didn't spawn some of them.

      • by autocracy (192714)

        You don't see the front door open in the video. The front shot of the house where you see movement through the door frame is actually showing the right side of the building snapping off the foundation.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        The odds of any particular building getting smacked by a tornado are fairly small

        Not when the tornado is tearing through a neighborhood. When an F2 ripped through my neighborhood (journal linked in another comment), few buildings came out unscathed. The damage is mostly from stuff flying through the air at 300 mph. The destruction the day after was unimaginable, and hard to describe. I saw huge I-beams twised, and it wasn't the wind that twisted them, it was heavy stuff hitting them at a high rate of speed.

        • Re:Tornado Strength? (Score:5, Informative)

          by cowscows (103644) on Friday October 22, 2010 @09:49AM (#33984732) Journal

          Well, yeah, once something is happening, the odds of it happening are pretty high. Anyways, I'm not try to belittle tornadoes, I actually find them far more scary than a hurricane, because with a hurricane we have ample warning to get out of the way.

          But for your average home in kansas or some other tornado prone state, the overall chance of that house being hit by a tornado in its lifetime are less than the odds of a house in florida to be impacted by a hurricane in its lifetime. That combined with the fact that designing to protect against hurricane force winds is a good bit easier than designing against tornado force winds has led to our society in general to decide that for most of our buildings, the costs of tornado proofing are not worth it.

          Better to send the people underground or wherever is safe, and just let the tornado have its way with the buildings. Mother Nature wins that fight by default, we don't even try to step into the ring.

      • by ginbot462 (626023)

        While I agree chances are small to be hit by tornado, even in a active area (I live in one - North Alabama). Building to minimize damage with something like ICF has other benefits as well. And tornado shelters make great meth labs! Wait, did I remember to ventilate mine ....

        ******

        ICF -insulated concrete forms. I was tempted to leave it .. just to see what people interpreted it as.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Gilmoure (18428)

        A buddy with a construction company in Florida built his house as a 40 foot square (1600 sq. feet) with a pyramidal shaped roof (cathedral ceiling inside and all interior walls end at 9' high) so that there are no flat roof surfaces for the wind to build up agains. For the framing, there were the standard threaded rod ties coming up from the slab, through the footers of the wall, and bolted down but he also put additional ties running up from the slab all the way up through the outside walls, that then go t

    • Yet another effort by insurers to figure out what claims they can deny? For them, $100,000 a pop would be a good investment, if they can use the data to deny a single claim.

      Beware of what you wish for in hurricane science.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This news story blows.

  • by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Friday October 22, 2010 @08:17AM (#33984252)
    Now, if they would just test homes made out of straw, sticks, and bricks and see if in fact, a straw house can be reinforced to withstand big bad wolf strength winds.
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by hedwards (940851)
      That test is a lot less expensive, what does Glen Beck get for giving a speech these days?
    • But seriously, this would be a great opportunity to examine straw bale and other "alternate" construction technologies. It can be incredibly difficult to get construction plans for approved by authorities accustomed to stick-built construction; data showing superior performance in worst-case conditions might add some much-needed credibility.
  • Nothing new here. When I was a kid I had a program that would simulate fires, tornadoes, air and boat crashes, earthquakes, nuclear disasters, and even Godzilla, for far less than $100,000 a pop.
  • This makes me wonder if they are doing this because scientists say that Global Warming will increase the strength and frequency of hurricanes, [usatoday.com] tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters. [guardian.co.uk]

    Why not try to combat the sources of global warming at the same time? Green, renewable energy might also help the insurance industry save money.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by klubar (591384)

      Actually the real issue that property insurance companies are concerned about is rising ocean levels. If you look at a map, much of the insured property is fairly close to a coast. Rising water levels will increase the frequency and severity of damage from floods and wind-driven water. Some insurance companies have stopped writing insurance in flood-prone areas and it's even going to get worse.

      So yes, global warming is a real concern to insurance companies--as they are used to looking out many years on t

  • Giant fans (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I saw this a couple of days ago under the headline "Hundreds of Giant Fans Rip House Apart". I thought it was talking about football fans.

  • Awesome! Right? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by captainpanic (1173915) on Friday October 22, 2010 @08:47AM (#33984376)

    I am very confused with the replies I read here (see above).
    My first thought when I heard about this was: Awesome! In big capital letters.

    I am a fan of overpowered machines that dwarf anything else... and this is just really really big, and it was built with the sole purpose to destroy things... It's a really cool toy!

    However, the average slashdotter seem to find quite a few things wrong with this... or they just make a joke about it (+1 for jokes).

    Is there something wrong with me? Am I alone?

    • No, no you're not.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      For some reason it seems like it is much cooler or more respectable, these days, to hate on things than to be excited about them. In the existence of building a really big toy that rips shit apart, a lot of people will find fault with it being a big, wasteful, over-power-hungry, ego driven monstrosity. I find that, while this sentiment is reflected to some degree on slashdot, it is much calmer here than it is in many other cultural niches of society in general. Being the person that sees something and says,
    • Indeed awesome, but when you look for comments modded 3 to 5 informative or insightful, (or filter the low ones out from the git-go) you'd get a much more interesting discussion forum, with links too.

  • Wasn't that done by the Mythbusters last week? Only instead of a bunch of fans they used one jet engine. Yay! Efficiency!
    • by natehoy (1608657)

      Yes, and no.

      The Mythbusters were testing a couple of StormChaser vehicles for wind survivability. They tested linear wind from the optimal direction the vehicle was designed for (I would have loved to see the fancier one with the struts turned 90 or even 180 degrees, because that vehicle was very specifically designed to only resist wind from a pretty specific direction).

      This building looks like they can use the louvers over the fans to adjust wind direction (possibly even setting up some cyclone forces),

  • One could even test crosswind, tailwind, or gail force wind landings...

  • Call me when a category 3 hurricane whips the scattered debris together and creates a giant lab. That will be news.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    By locating in South Carolina they will get to test the test building sooner or later with a real hurricane!

  • There's no reason for a hurricane to be anything more than a public nuisance. I lived under Wilma for a whole 48 hours (just leaving five years ago tonight as a matter of fact), and Emily only a few months before that. How did we prepare? Bought lots of beer (before they cut off liquor sales a full 36 hours before it hit, the bastards!), tied down the water tank on the roof and pruned a few trees (one still fell over anyway), probably didn't need to board up the windows. Power was back on in the center of t

  • I would love to see them test a dome home. They are supposed to withstand hurricane and tornado conditions. They are about the same cost to build (or so I have heard and read.)
  • the Weather Channel sends it's reporters into this thing to practice their in-storm broadcasts. And to test their toupees.
  • >"give the insurers the ability to carefully videotape"

    If they're spending $100k per simulation, I would hope they could afford to upgrade to digital solutions.

  • Umm... not to devalue their achievement, but The University of Western Ontario's already got one of those: http://communications.uwo.ca/com/western_news/stories/'3_little_pigs'_facility_eager_to_blow_the_house_down_20051021434073/ [communications.uwo.ca] It's been operational for several years now.

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing for money.

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