University of Florida Wind Engineers: On a Mission

Published on October 29, 2019


As Hurricane Dorian began bearing down on the Bahamas on August 30 and 31, the University of Florida's Forrest Masters and his team of wind engineers were scanning forecasts and models for the perfect time and place to park their mobile weather stations to measure the storm's surface wind structure during landfall along the U.S. east coast.

The data collected on these deployments are valuable to understanding how surface-level wind structures develop over the terrain. Additionally, the windspeed measurements are used by post-disaster reconnaissance teams to better understand the loads that led to the observed damages.

The slow, unpredictable path of Dorian made it difficult to select locations for setting up the stations. But by Sept. 4, the UF team was on the road to coastal Wilmington, North Carolina. They met up with University of Miami hurricane expert Dave Nolan, an atmospheric scientist, along with a student, to decide on the exact coordinates.

Location of UF's Tower 1 and 2



Tower 2

Tower 1

Masters' team put up the 15 m weather station (Tower 2) equipped with ultrasonic anemometers at Kure Beach, in a suburban setting (below), to gather data for Nolan's NSF-funded PREEVENTS work.

These sensors measure wind speed and direction. The tower was set up downwind of a large commercial building to study the impact of obstructions on windspeed, direction and gusts.

The 10 m weather station (Tower 1) went up in an open location in nearby Carolina Beach. The team selected a spot with ground elevation sufficient for the storm surge not to inundate the weather station base. The location provided unobstructed measurements to contrast with the 15 m weather station.

Data from the stations show top wind speeds over 70 MPH at Tower 1 and 60 MPH at Tower 2.

The data collected in field deployments is vital to understanding storm behavior. The UF team contributed its work on Hurricane Harvey to the Digital Hurricane Consortium's paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, published in May 2019. The paper, "Observing Hurricane Harvey's Eyewall at Landfall," describes the unique tools and the strategy used by the DHC, an ad hoc group of atmospheric scientists and wind engineers, to intercept and collect high-resolution measurements of Harvey's inner core and eyewall as it passed over Aransas Bay into mainland Texas.

Tower 1 data


Tower 2 data