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Hurricane Isabel is creeping her way toward the East Coast and people are bracing themselves and their homes for the 110 mph winds.
Here at CSU, far from the reach of a hurricane, is a unique lab that tests how these types of winds can affect structural buildings.
The Wind Engineering and Fluids Lab, located on the Foothills Campus, conducts research using a model that simulates the Atmospheric Boundary Layer, the first 1,000 feet into the atmosphere. The surface of the earth is simulated using wooden blocks as buildings on a scale of 1-400. Spires at the entrance of a wind tunnel generate wind-flow and gusts of wind to produce turbulent wind, which in turn represents properties of real wind.
The WEFL studies wind effects in the lab by using models of existing buildings such as the Sears Tower in Chicago and the Denver Federal Building. Before the World Trade Center was built in New York, the basic frame and structure were tested at CSU using a model of the building and the wind tunnel.
The lab also experiments with new ideas for buildings to sustain strong winds.
David Neff, senior research scientist and an associate professor describes the facility as a more “accurate and realistic approach” to studying wind effects.
The WEFL can measure the effects pollutants have on the environment as well as conducting urban terrorism scenarios. In a complicated urban environment, such as Boston, Denver or New York, the wind tunnel in the WEFL can simulate a gas being released into the air and track movement downwind to “watch how the (dispersion) moves and to assist emergency response,” Neff said.
Buildings with present structural damage or wind control problems can enlist the help of the WEFL. The Denver Federal Center building had what Neff called “sick building syndrome.”
“Glass was breaking from the wind and people couldn’t go from their car to the building,” Neff said.
The WEFL studied the structure of the building and alleviated the problem.
Tornados and hurricanes have also been simulated with the wind tunnel in the laboratory. Winds from hurricanes, such as Isabel, can be much more detrimental to buildings than strong gusts of wind through cities like Denver.
“Hurricanes can have 100 mph wind for five to six hours beating down on structures. Whereas (in Denver) it can come through quickly and just blows all your lawn furniture away,” said Mike Nelson, chief meteorologist for Denver’s 9News channel.
Bogusz Bienkiewicz, professor of civil engineering at CSU and president of the American Association of Wind Energy, plans to travel to North Carolina to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Isabel.
“(There are) lessons learned from the damage,” Bienkiewicz said. “(We can) identify flaws in design, construction and assessment to see if the design was correct or incorrect.”