How researchers are working to protect buildings from tornados, hurricanes

A team of researchers in Lubbock, Texas is working to make buildings and shelters stronger for hurricanes and tornados. 

At the National Wind Institute (NWI) at Texas Tech University, their goal is to improve codes for future buildings.


"Ultimately, you’d like to know what we can do to help improve codes, so homes can be made safer," said Darryl James, a professor of mechanical engineering at Texas Tech.

NWI uses a debris impact facility to test storm shelters against debris. With a device, similar to a cannon, scientists are able to launch debris at shelters over 100 miles per hour. In order to replicate a tornado or hurricane, they launch wood, fence posts, bricks, any items that could become projectiles during intense storms.

In addition, NWI also has a VorTECH device. According to researchers, VorTEch is designed to replicate tornadic winds in the mid-Enhanced Fujita Scale three (EF3) range or less. Basically, this simulates a scaled down version of a tornado that would have 150 miles per hour winds.

"We need to know what damage and destruction happens by tornados," said James.

Using sensors attached to replica buildings, researchers are able to see how the winds impact structures.  Down the road, this data could be used to help strengthen buildings for twisters.

"When you’re building a home, there are codes to design it to a given wind speed," said James. "We understand those straight line winds. We don’t understand tornado winds yet."

The team of researchers also use a mobile radar to take inside severe storms. They use these to get a better, more exact picture of what’s happening near tornados and hurricanes.

"We’re able to get these trucks up and close to any sort of weather event that we’re interested in," said Matthew Asel, a graduate student at Texas Tech.

The Wind Institute at Texas Tech is using these tools to better understand wind, tornados, and hurricanes. If successful, their research could help design better wind resistant buildings and save lives.