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World's biggest hurricane simulator could help save lives

Wednesday, May 6, 2015, 8:12 AM - More than two years in the making, the world's biggest hurricane simulator is now ready to go.

Located in University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmosphere Science site, the simulator can hold 38,000 gallons of water and produce winds hovering around category 5 strength, mimicking some of the strongest hurricanes on record.

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The machine cost $15 million and essentially looks like a giant aquarium. But once the engine turns on wind speeds of up to 251 km/h send powerful waves smashing against the acrylic windows.

SUSTAIN (SUrge-STructure-Atmosphere INteraction facility) could change the way experts think about hurricanes.

"[A key component] of SUSTAIN will be to improve hurricane intensity forecasting," lead scientists Brian Haus told AFP. "Over the last 20 years our track forecasts have been getting better and better. But the thing that hasn't gotten any better over the past 20 years is hurricane intensity forecasts."

Hurricane Wilma in 2005 is remembered among scientists in the field as an example where the forecasting available at the time fell short. It jumped in strength from Category 2 to Category 5 in a matter of hours.

"That is the thing that reallys cares forecasters because it makes it hard for them to do their job," Haus said.

Wilma went on to kill dozens of people and cause upward of $10 billion in damage.

One key area which SUSTAIN aims to focus on is the damage sustained by homes and buildings, as well as what changes can be made to improve the current situation.

"This is important because most of our building codes and models for how we build in coastal are not based on any real information about what happens in these conditions," Haus said.

Source: AFP

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