Five natural disaster simulators in the U.S. that help build stronger, more resilient communities

From earthquakes and tornadoes to hurricanes and flooding, residents of the United States are no strangers to destructive and often deadly natural disasters. These powerful phenomena not only threaten lives, but also result in billions of dollars in damage annually, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Scientists and researchers work to study these disasters to help us understand how to better protect vulnerable regions and improve resiliency. A helpful resource in investigating these disasters is through simulators.

The U.S. is home to a number of simulators that recreate the extraordinary effects of various disasters for research purposes. Below are five natural disaster simulators located at universities across the country.

Iowa State University’s tornado simulator
Iowa State University - tornado simulator

"We will try to quantify the uncertainties in estimating tornado winds and the corresponding structural damage," said Dr. Partha Sarkar of the tornado simulator he designed and built. (Photo/Iowa State University)

In 2004, Iowa State University (ISU) aerospace engineering professor Dr. Partha Sarkar designed and built the country's first moving tornado simulator to study the interaction of tornadoes with man-made structures.

Engineers use the simulator, which creates mini tornadoes as powerful as real-life EF3 twisters, to uncover how building codes, building ages, structure shapes, roof types and construction quality influence tornado damage; how internal pressures inside buildings influence tornado damage; and how the wind loads are distributed and shared by a building’s components, for example, according to a university press release. The simulator “can create and move a tornadolike vortex back and forth over a test bed,” and Sarkar, and his team study the loads and pressures caused by laboratory storms passing over models of homes and buildings, according to ISU.

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