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Simulating Irma: Experience the force of category 5 winds

Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Saturday, September 23, 2017, 18:19 - In order for winds to really ramp up in a hurricane, the barometric pressure needs to drop and sometimes this can take days. But imagine going from category 1 wind speeds to category 5 within seconds. This has become reality for scientists at University of Ontario Institute of Technology's ACE climatic wind tunnel.

ACE is a $100-million center multi-purpose facility owned and operated by the university located in Oshawa, Ontario in Canada. From blazing desert heat and raging blizzards, to torrential rain and damaging winds, ACE can create pretty much every conceivable weather condition, made-to-order.

The ACE team managed to simulate the different wind speeds at which Hurricane Irma reached when it made successive landfalls in the Caribbean and Florida.

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Hurricane Irma broke several records in the Atlantic Basin. The storm reached a maximum wind speed of 185 mph -- tied with the Florida Keys Hurricane of 1935, Gilbert (1988), and Wilma (2005) for the second strongest max winds of all time in an Atlantic hurricane. The record is held by Hurricane Allen (1980), which reached 190 mph.

While the tunnel was unable to get up to 185 or 183 mph, the speed at which Irma reached when it made landfall in Barbuda, the team from TWN was able to experience category 5 winds at a maximum of 163 mph. 

Irma's wind speeds were around 160 km/h when the storm made landfall in Cuba. It was the first category 5 hurricane to make a direct hit on the country since 1924.

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The TWN team watched in awe as the force was strong enough to tear a UOIT flag. This was demonstrated in a controlled space. It's difficult to imagine the full scope of damage left by Irma. The hurricane swept through the Leeward Islands, and swept away with it more than 300 years of civilization. An estimated 95 per cent of Barbuda's structures were damaged or destroyed by the storm.

As of Sept. 22, 13 storms have formed so far this season in the Atlantic Basin, four of which have gained major hurricane status (category 3 or higher).

While we don't anticipate the remainder of the season to be quite as active as the last few weeks, many of the same favorable conditions for storm formation and intensification will continue to be present through the early fall, according to The Weather Network's meteorologist Michael Carter.

So, it is very likely that we will hear from the tropics at least a few more times before the season comes to a close.

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