• Chief meteorologist Glenn Burns goes inside the 'Wall of Wind'


    The severe storms in north Georgia this week are an example of the kinds of winds seen in the area during the spring.  

    Severe Weather Team 2 Chief Meteorologist Glenn Burns accepted an invitation to tour one of the most sophisticated wind test sites in the country.

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    It's called the Wall of Wind, and it opened in 2002 on the campus of Florida International University in Miami.

    The winds start blowing, and the ocean starts churning, and soon a hurricane is bearing down on the Southeast coast.  A hurricane that strikes the coast may lose some of its punch by the time it hits north Georgia, but it still can hit hard.

    Wind speeds: Tornadoes v. Hurricanes



    Hurricane Opal in 1995 toppled more than 4,000 trees, and washed out part of I-285.

    The goal of the Wall of Wind is to reduce the $36 billion in damage caused each year by hurricanes.

    "You know Florida, we are the hurricane capital of the United States," said Wall of Wind Associate Director Erik Salna.

    The state of Florida completely funded the $7 million facility.  Twelve fans generate 3 million cubic feet of air through the wind tunnel every three minutes. 

    It can produce wind speeds more than 150 MPH.  That's a category 5 hurricane.

    Researchers believe through the testing at the Wall of Wind, they can improve building codes, saving property and lives.

    "Building codes are different across the country," Salna said.  "There is room for improvement, from Florida to northern Georgia.  We talk about hurricane winds in Florida, we can talk about tornadic winds in Northern Georgia.   A wind is a wind."

    In the spring, metro Atlanta can see storms that produce straight line winds up to 70 MPH.

    The anatomy of wind is complex. Imagine it like waves on the ocean, with many factors that make it move the way it does.

    Inside the wall of wind are blocks lining the floor. Those are set up to create the turbulence associated with wind.

    The day Burns visited the Wall of Wind, a team from Georgia Tech was there conducting a week-long experiment, backed by the U.S. Energy Department.   It wants to make solar energy more affordable to everyone.

    "We are testing the wind load on three solar panel racking systems developed under projects at Georgia Tech," said research engineer Joe Goodman. "The project aim is at reducing the cost of solar racking and installation labor by greater than 50 percent."

    In phase one, the crew tested 15 different configurations a day using winds speeds greater than 60 MPH.  

    The team will return in July and crank up the wind speeds to category 5 strength.

    Right now, they are busy on the Georgia Tech campus perfecting the locking system for the panels.

    "It's kind of replacing the nuts and bolts on the system.  Where nuts and bolts are hand-assembled on the roof, they're subjected to the vulnerability of the installer,"  Goodman said.

    An average commercial building, like the IKEA store in Atlantic Station, can have up to 6,000 solar panels on the roof.  The panels run about $700 each. 

    Georgia Tech researchers said the information from their first round of testing was very successful.

    Wall of Wind officials added it's just one project among many aimed at making structures and people safer.

    "We can construct homes, even in northern Georgia with a higher building code standard," Salna said.

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