UF Team Learns from Hurricane Sandy

The UF Hurricane Research team can’t prevent storms like Hurricane Sandy, but it hopes the storm can teach engineers how to prevent future building damage.
A satellite image of Hurricane Sandy shows it covering most of the Northeast and parts of Canada on Monday.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Monday night, causing flooding and wind damage throughout the Northeast. UF engineers placed a weather station in New Jersey ahead of the storm hoping to learn how to prevent future building damage. Image courtesy of NASA

Most people flee a storm like Hurricane Sandy. Forrest Masters and the UF Hurricane Research team drive toward it.

Before what came to be known as a “superstorm” made landfall near Atlantic City, N.J., Monday night with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph and a nearly 12-foot storm surge, UF researchers were in New Jersey deploying a portable weather station to measure it. The data they collect could tell them how to build stronger structures to better survive nature’s wrath.

“The biggest myth is that damage caused in hurricanes is unavoidable,” Masters, an assistant professor of civil and coastal engineering at UF, told Scientific American this week. “We have the means and the technologies to prevent significant losses in hurricanes.”

With Florida serving as a regular target for Atlantic storms, UF has been studying ways to minimize damage for about 15 years. The Hurricane Research team, part of the College of Engineering’s Center for Infrastructure Protections and Physical Security, regularly goes out into storms — and their aftermath — to study how they behave at ground level and how buildings respond to them.

The UF Hurricane Research team deployed a similar, radio-tower-like weather station before Hurricane Sandy struck Monday night.

When hurricanes strike, members of UF’s Hurricane Research team try to get ahead of the storms to deploy portable weather stations such as this one, which was deployed in Louisiana for Hurricane Isaac in August. The wind and rain data the stations provide can help engineers determine how they can strengthen homes and other buildings. Photo courtesy of UF Hurricane Research.

“We use this information to make better decisions about building communities,” Masters told Scientific American. “We’re trying to make communities more resilient, and in order to do that, we have to have more accurate information.”

But waiting for a hurricane isn’t the team’s only option. UF engineers have built a giant, 2,800-horsepower wind-and-rain machine — the largest portable wind simulator in the world — capable of mimicking a Category 3 hurricane for research purposes. The team can point the trailer-mounted simulator at vacant buildings to see where and why the structures break down — and how to fix or prevent those failings in other buildings.

“The U.S. has experienced more than $110 billion in insured loss because of inadequate building performance, and we need to get a handle on how we characterize pressure loads on structures,” Masters said.

Ultimately, the work UF is doing can help homeowners and business owners worldwide by introducing retrofit and construction techniques that make buildings more resilient to all kinds of damaging storms, not just hurricanes.

Help Strengthen Our Homes

To support wind mitigation research at UF, visit the UF Foundation’s online giving site. To learn more about the Hurricane Research team’s efforts, including the latest news, follow the team on Facebook.

To learn more about how to make your own home safer in a hurricane, visit the Institute for Food and Agricultural Science’s hurricane preparation page, or see wind mitigation techniques for yourself at one of UF’s “hurricane houses” in Broward, Escambia, St. Johns and St. Lucie counties.


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