Gathering Hurricane Data for Wind Engineering Experiments

UF engineering professor tracks landfalling hurricanes, deploys weather stations

Published on May 5, 2021


At NHERI’s University of Florida Experimental Facility, wind engineers from around the nation use the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel to test structural behavior in a variety of wind environments. In 2021, the lab is making available a new system called the Flow Field Modulator to recreate these environments, which can be informed by hundreds of hours of field-measured, ground-level hurricane wind velocity data.

And where does that data come from? Since 1999, UF wind engineers and their colleagues have deployed portable weather towers in the path of almost every U.S. landfalling hurricane.

Wind engineer Forrest Masters has been leading the Powell Lab teams on these data gathering missions since he completed his PhD in 2004. Masters and his team transport portable weather stations to coastal suburban communities where the most damaging winds are expected to occur.

The weather stations collect high resolution, multi-height measurement data — and in effect, bring the hurricane to the lab, which offers stationery and transient targets over a variety of terrains. The instrumented towers collect high-fidelity turbulence and wind-driven profile measurements to characterize terrain dependent approach flow conditions.

The hurricane data enables wind engineers from institutions across the nation to explore the interaction of hurricane induced winds and engineered structures with wind tunnel and computational modeling. In turn, these experiments enable the evaluation of existing provisions in building codes and standards, cost effective damage mitigation measures, and resilient design of structures.

The UF data gathering missions also strengthen interactions between the wind engineering and atmospheric science disciplines. For example, joint measurements taken by the University of Oklahoma and UF captured the passage of hurricane mesovortices during Category 4 Hurricane Harvey. These exciting data collection missions also provide advanced training to graduate and undergraduate students at UF.