This $15 million water tank can simulate a Category 5 hurricane. It could reveal clues about how storms worsen over time.
Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesBrian Haus, a professor at the University of Miami, replicates Category 5 winds with his hurricane simulator.Joe Raedle/Getty Images
- A $15 million machine at the University of Miami can simulate the conditions of a Category 5 hurricane.
- The acrylic tank - the largest of its kind - uses a wind tunnel and wave basin to mimic oceanic and atmospheric conditions.
- Brian Haus, the lab's director, told Business Insider that data from the tank could help forecasters better predict the paths and impacts of storms like Hurricane Dorian.
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Hurricane Dorian has been moving across the Atlantic Ocean for the last several days, but forecasters have had some trouble predicting its exact path.
The National Hurricane Center now says Dorian is likely to bring hurricane conditions to the Bahamas on Sunday, and approach Florida's eastern coast as a Category 4 storm on Monday. That left-ward movement is somewhat strange, since tropical cyclones passing through the same location typically re-curve to the right.
Though hurricane models have improved over the last several decades, forecasters are still working to learn about how hurricanes form and intensify.
To answer these fundamental questions, they turn to data from places like University of Miami's Sustain Laboratory, where a $15 million machine can mimic the conditions of a Category 5 hurricane.
Brian Haus, the director of the laboratory, told Business Insider how he's using the tank to help forecasters make better predictions about storms like Hurricane Dorian in the future.
The hurricane simulations take place in an acrylic tank with a surface area of more than 4,200 square feet.
The machine consists of a wind tunnel that simulates a storm and a wave maker that mimics the open ocean.
The wave basin holds around 40,000 gallons of water, which get churned by 12 underwater paddles.
The wind tunnel pulls in air from a giant fan with a 1,460-horsepower engine.
The turbines are noisy, so researchers are given headphones.
From there, researchers use computer models to determine patterns in hurricane behavior, from the direction of a storm to the way it builds.
Haus said climate change has generated a lot of "unresolved questions" for his lab.
He said "people might be surprised to know" that the technology used to measure hurricanes doesn't necessarily get better every year.