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Engineers prepare to study hurricane winds

Good mitigation during planning and construction allows some homes to withstand hurricane-force winds

Hurricane 3D VRML
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May 11, 1999
Web posted at: 1:30 PM EDT

University engineers will fan out into evacuated coastal cities in Florida this summer to study how hurricane-force winds affect houses retrofitted for the storms and determine if building codes are up to par.

The Florida Coastal Monitoring Program will also gather information about low-altitude wind speeds and directions in hurricanes, data that is largely unavailable today.

Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., is leading the project, with the University of Florida and Florida International University participating.

Tim Reinhold, a Clemson associate professor of civil engineering, said the research may shed light on what has become a hotly contested issue.

"After a hurricane strikes, wind speeds tend to get exaggerated and many people believe the storm was so strong damage was inevitable," he said. "Others will say the damage was a result of shoddy construction. And then there are people who say the codes just weren't stringent enough.

"Who is right? Right now, there's so little data as to how strong the winds were and how strong the houses were built, anybody can put up as much smoke as they want to."

The researchers currently are outfitting 10 homes in south Florida with brackets, wiring and other equipment in preparation for the start of the June 1-Nov. 30 hurricane season.

The homes, plus 10 more in the Florida Panhandle to be outfitted later this summer, are receiving hurricane retrofits as part of the Florida Department of Community Affairs' Residential Coastal Mitigation Program. The program, launched after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, provides assistance to homeowners to retrofit homes against wind or water damage. Homeowners agreed to participate in exchange for $8,000 to $12,000 in retrofits.

Kurt Gurley, a University of Florida assistant professor of civil engineering, said researchers will track hurricanes, then work with meteorologists to determine the most likely landfall.

When a hurricane appears about two days away from southeast Florida or the panhandle, two teams of researchers will load up equipment in vans based in Gainesville, then deliver and install it in the prepared houses in the hurricane's path, Gurley said.

The equipment includes instruments that measure wind speed, direction and pressure and computers that collect and interpret the data for each home.

Shortly before the hurricane strikes, when researchers have a more definite idea where it will make landfall, they plan to deploy at least one large trailer with several monitoring instruments directly in the storm's path.

Reinhold and Gurley said little is known about hurricane wind speeds and forces at altitudes of below 30 meters, despite the impact these winds have on houses or other small structures.

The Florida Department of Community Affairs is funding the project with grants totaling about $560,000, much of it going for the purchase of the vans and monitoring equipment, Reinhold said.

"People just seem to accept wind damage as something that happens -- they don't realize there are things that can be done," Gurley said. "Even people in very high-risk areas like the Keys can do things to protect their property."

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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Florida Department of Community Affairs
FEMA: Hurricane Preparedness
National Hurricane Center
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