SUSTAIN Lab to Mimic Hurricane Conditions

Coming June, this Atlantic Hurricane season, predictions about the direction and intensity of hurricanes would be all the more precise. The season being a new simulated laboratory, that apes the actual conditions that develop during a hurricane.

Researchers at the University of Miami have come up with a new lab that allows them to generate hurricane conditions with the flick of a button. The lab has been developed at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and is known as the Surge-Structure-Atmosphere Interaction, or SUSTAIN.

The lab houses a clear acrylic tank about 75 feet long and 6.5 feet high, wherein about 38,000 gallons of seawater can be whisked into white-capped waves by a 1,700-horsepower fan. Such enormous power, with winds topping 157 mph, is capable of creating conditions akin to a Category 5 hurricane. Atop the tank are satellite sensors with give a bird’s eye view of the storm conditions stirring up in the tank. This simulated setup would help fine-tune satellites watching real-time storms.

The director of the lab, Brian Haus, as part of a pilot-run, observed the tank from all possible sides. He watched sea spray blast bubbles and water droplets go down the tank. This observation of the way hurricane-force winds interact with spray coming off the surface of seawater, would help researchers improve real-time tropical storm observations made by satellites, ocean buoys, drones and other sensors launched from ‘hurricane hunter aircraft’.

SUSTAIN is also aimed at helping researchers gauge the intensity of these tropical storms. Over the last few decades, predictions for a storm’s path improved significantly helping thin down the so-called ‘cone of uncertainty’ that impacts preparedness. However, researchers, until date have not made much progress when it came to improving predictions for how strong or intense a tropical storm would become. The present project attempts to do just that!

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