TTU team works to make buildings safer during storms

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Researchers right here on the South Plains know they can't stop mother nature. For decades scientists have worked to make sense of a tornado's unpredictable fury.

The Texas Tech Wind Science and Engineering Research Center designed and built the VorTech. It simulates tornadic winds up to 150 miles per hour.

"The more we understand how the atmosphere interacts with structures the more we can make structures safer," Joseph Dannemiller, a Texas Tech NSF IGERT PhD Fellow said.

The VorTECH simulator is one of a kind and has become the leading research facility of its kind. The VorTECH facility's purpose is to study how the wind behaves inside of a tornado and the effects of those winds on structures.

"It will make a 18 foot tall and 3 feet in diameter vortex. At the time it was built it was the world's largest," explained Jeff Livingston, the onsite operations manager.

It's tucked away inside a building at Reese Center. Here's how it works. Eight fans and 64 wind vanes simulate what Mother Nature randomly makes with the flip of a switch.

The simulator is set to imitate the most common tornado which is an EF-2, with winds between 110 mph and 137 mph.

"This facility will be used to study the small vortices around a tornado and how the tornado pushes on the structures people shelter themselves for safety," Dannemiller said.

Each year twisters cause billions of dollars in damage, injure hundreds and can be deadly.

"You can't wait," said Dannemiller. It's how the team feels when they see damage. They are eager to get back to their research and make a difference.

Dannemiller and instructor Larry Tanner recently returned from Alabama where they took lots of pictures and collected data on the devastating storm system that killed more than 200 people.

"The purpose of our research is to advance understanding in hopes to make the effects of the next storm less significant in terms of destruction and loss of life."

It will take time, but TTU scientists hope their research will one day make your home, your office and your school safer during severe weather.

"If we can understand how the tornadoes interact and damage a structure, then maybe we can develop building codes to improve the safety of homes," Darryl James, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and WISE associate said in a news release.

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