Feeling the Power of Hurricane-Force Winds
This week marks the 55th anniversary Hurricane Carol. Carol was the first time I had personally seen the power of a hurricane when it came calling in 1954 to my home in Brockton, Mass. Since then I've had several close-up encounters with hurricanes, but always from a safe vantage point without direct exposure to hurricane-force winds.
So, when I saw the announcement that the University of Maryland would be hosting a Hurricane Wind Tunnel Media Day, I simply could not resist the opportunity to actually feel winds up to 115 mph. It was an awesome experience and lots of fun, too.
Keep reading for more on my wind tunnel experience...
I was greeted at the wind tunnel facility by its director, Dr. Jewel B. Barlow. Before entering the tunnel, Dr. Barlow reviewed what to expect, including tips for having fun (and surviving) the wind tunnel experience.
He mentioned that one could stand without restraints for wind speeds up to 40 mph. Higher than 40 mph requires being anchored with a safety restraint and wearing safety goggles. The tunnel's maximum wind speed is 230 mph, though 115 mph -- equivalent to a low-end Category 3 hurricane -- is as high as they'll go when a person is in the tunnel. While not applicable in my case, Dr. Barlow mentioned that men are cautioned not to wear ties -- they would be shredded -- and women are advised not to wear blouses with slippery pearl buttons -- to avoid a "wardrobe malfunction." Dr. Barlow added, "don't laugh, it's happened."
As the wind speed increased to 40 mph (tropical storm force) I could move around freely. As speeds increased toward minimal hurricane strength of 75 -80 mph, I couldn't hear anything nor could I communicate verbally with the tunnel operators. Flash cards were held up to tell me how fast the wind was blowing, and a thumbs-up signal by me was the OK for continuing to jack up the speed.
You'll see in the video (at the beginning of the post) my shirt flapping violently, as well as my facial features being distorted in a chaotic pattern. I finally gave the colloquial slash-across-the-throat signal to quit at 100 mph, since I felt like I was going to fall over backwards.
Keep in mind that the force of the wind increases with the square of the speed such that, for example, the force at 100 mph on my body was four times, not twice, that at 50 mph. While feeling badly that I didn't make it to the tunnel's top speed of 115 mph, Dr. Barlow consoled me by noting that the increase in wind force between 100 mph and 115 mph would have been relatively small compared to that when the wind was cranked up from 40 mph to 100 mph (factors of 1.32 and 6.25, respectively).
Not only did I survive -- and enjoy -- the experience of facing down hurricane-force winds, but I did so without having to hang onto a telephone pole in the midst of the real thing, or otherwise make a fool of myself like so many TV news reporters here and amateur storm chasers, a.k.a. certifiable candidates for a Darwin Award.
| August 27, 2009; 10:45 AM ET
Categories: Tracton, Tropical Weather
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