'Wall of Wind': Go inside the Florida facility that tests hurricane resilience

Researchers are also working to build a new facility to test even stronger winds and other hurricane conditions

MIAMI – Did you ever wonder how windows, homes, solar panels, streetlights and power lines are rated safe for hurricane winds? The Wall of Wind gives engineers the force of Mother Nature with the flip of a switch.

The National Science Foundation funded the 16,000-square-foot facility at Florida International University that is part of the National Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure. The simulator uses 12 fans capable of generating Category 5 hurricane winds – 157 mph. It even has a rain generator. 


"In the recent years, we see stronger storms," Arindam Gan Chowdhury, principal investigator and director of the NHERI. "Like the hurricanes, they're almost closing in on 180 to 200 miles per hour of wind speed." 

The NSF approved a $12.8 million grant to the university and other partners to create a new testing facility that can generate 200 mph winds combined with a water basin to simulate storm surge and wave action. The National Full-Scale Testing Infrastructure for Hardening in Extreme Wind, Surge and Wave Events will be the size of a football stadium and can test structures as large as a two-story home.

"NICHE is going to do simultaneous simulation of wind, wind-driven rain, wave, storm surge, flooding, current – everything together with various combinations of those intensities," Chowdhury said.

"Climate change is fueling more intense and more dangerous storms, and cutting-edge research and testing capabilities are clearly needed to meet the nation’s evolving risks," said Richard S. Olson, director of FIU’s Extreme Events Institute in a press release. "In fact, and because the famous Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale only goes to Category 5, internally we call this our ‘Cat 6 project.’" 

NICHE will further the research already being conducted at the Wall of Wind facility. For the past decade, the ultimate wind machine has tested building and infrastructure designs along with retrofit projects.