S&T tornado simulator helps researchers investigate structure failure

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On May 31, 2022

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Dr. Grace Yan talks with her students about the importance of S&T’s tornado simulator in understanding how tornadoes destroy homes, schools and other structures.

Tornadoes are so violent they often destroy sensors intended to record wind speed and pressure on commercial buildings, schools and homes, so there is no current technology to measure their real wind speed. Researchers at Missouri S&T are bringing tornadoes into the lab with a new simulator to model extreme cyclonic wind speeds and study how tornadoes destroy structures. The findings could then be used to update existing structures and influence new construction. The simulator was recently featured in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ publication Civil Engineering Source.

“Currently, post-storm damage surveys are the primary way to determine a tornado’s strength using the EF scale,” says Dr. Grace Yan, associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at Missouri S&T. “With the simulator, we can reproduce real-world tornadoes in the lab environment to discover the true failure mechanisms in civil structures.”

Yan is director of Missouri S&T’s Wind Hazard Mitigation Laboratory and the Center for Hazard Mitigation and Community Resilience. She also chairs the North American Alliance for Hazards and Disaster Research Institutes (NAAHDRI) board of directors. NAAHDRI is affiliated with 100 hazard and disaster research centers across North America.

The S&T tornado simulator has an 84-inch diameter fan that can produce a 139,000-cubic-feet-per-minute flow rate and allows researchers to scale up the wind speed to a high-intensity tornado. The massive metal dome is suspended on a track from the laboratory ceiling and can move along the track to simulate the path of an actual tornado. Yan’s team developed the computational fluid dynamics model for the facility, which is open for testing by researchers, practitioners and stakeholders from other institutions and agencies.

Yan wants to someday take the simulator’s capabilities out of the lab and into the world.

“I became interested in hazard mitigation to save people’s lives,” says Yan. “I hope to develop a virtual tornado experience that could be installed in public places to give people the sense of being in an actual tornado and motivate them to take tornado warnings seriously.”

About Missouri University of Science and Technology

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,200 students. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System and located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 101 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top 10 universities for return on investment, according to Business Insider. S&T also is home to the Kummer Institute, made possible by a $300 million gift from Fred and June Kummer. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu/.

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