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VorTECH Helps Researchers Better Understand Tornadoes

The device simulates tornadic winds in the mid-EF3 range, allowing researchers to understand vulnerability.

Written by Karin Slyker

VorTECH simulates how tornadoes do their damage using eigh large fans to suck up approximately 160,000 cubic feet of air each minute.

VorTECH simulates how tornadoes do their damage using eight large fans to suck up approximately 160,000 cubic feet of air each minute.

More than 40 years ago, a massive tornado tore through the heart of downtown Lubbock. It left a path of destruction a mile and a half wide, crippling the city. Twenty-six people were killed, and more than 1,500 were injured.

Since then, the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center (WISE) has become the leading research facility of its kind, with a focus on testing wind speed resistance in relation to storm shelters. Recently, they took their research a step further by studying how tornadoes do their damage, with the construction of a tornado simulator at Reese Center, about 10 miles west of the main campus.

Darryl James, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and WISE associate, and his team spent more than a year and a half building the device known as VorTECH.

“VorTECH was designed to simulate tornadic winds in the mid-EF3 range or less,” James said. “Approximately 92 percent of all tornadoes have maximum wind speeds of about 150 miles per hour or less.”

The simulator uses eight large fans to suck up approximately 160,000 cubic feet of air each minute, while 64 strategically placed vanes surround the simulator to create rotation.

The force of the wind is measured by dozens of pressure sensors applied to structural models. The data collected will contribute to understanding vulnerability.

“If we can understand how the tornadoes interacts and damages a structure, then maybe we can develop building codes to improve the safety of homes,” James said.

 

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2 Responses to “VorTECH Helps Researchers Better Understand Tornadoes”

  1. Martin Azese Says:

    This is incredibly awesome.

  2. Gerald Cox Says:

    I would like to see more research being done in how to make houses and other residential buildings more resistant to tornado force winds.

    How about using “blow out vents” in houses and other buildings to release or lower the internal air pressure when a tornado hits them to prevent the house or building exploding?.

    This is some what like an aircraft that has a “hull breach” at high altitude.

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Darryl James

Darryl James is an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering.

View his profile in our online Experts Guide.

National Wind Institute
National Wind Institute

National Wind Institute (NWI) is world-renowned for conducting innovative research in the areas of wind energy, wind hazard mitigation, wind-induced damage, severe storms and wind-related economics.

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