Florida International University researchers have launched their brand new hurricane-force wind simulation test facility — a giant array of six-foot-diameter fans capable of generating 157-mph winds at full power. With the power of — according to FIU researchers — 7,650 leaf blowers, the new device could shed new light on the real performance of modern building materials and structural connections developed to withstand hurricane winds.

The Miami Herald has the story ("FIU unveils powerful ‘Wall of Wind' hurricane simulator," by Curtis Morgan). According to the Herald report, a demonstration of the wind tunnel has already offered some surprises, as some hurricane-rated shingles appeared not to be as wind-resistant as predicted. Writes the Herald: "As expected, the first things to go were roof shingles but pre-Andrew designs, rated for just 60 mph, held up nearly as well as heavier products rated for 130 mph. Half of the supposedly stronger shingles began peeling away as the digital wind gauge hit 109 mph, just Cat 2 strength. But as the wind increased, there was no comparison between old and new. At Cat 3, the older design lost half the tar paper intended to keep out rain. At Cat 4, a whole section of thinner plywood sheathing began buckling furiously, then flew off in a flash."

The new test facility also has a rotating table, so that building elements or even small buildings can be turned to simulate the shift in direction of hurricane-force winds that buildings can encounter in real storms. Said Arindam Chowdhury, director of the wind engineering research at FIU's hurricane center: "You're not just testing individual components; you're testing the entire system. That's very important.''