Engineers at University of Florida Lead Hurricane and Tornado Research

In News, Research & Innovation

Hurricane season has begun and Gator Engineering hurricane and tornado research is making headlines.

Earlier this week, Dr. David Prevatt, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering, testified before members of the U.S. House Science Committee in Washington, DC. Prevatt researches how buildings can be built stronger to withstand extreme weather. He presented his latest research, and also requested support and funding for H.R. 1786 “The National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program” on behalf of the American Association for Wind Engineering (AAWE), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the University of Florida. He shared his first-hand experience surveying the damage to Moore, Okla. caused by an EF5 tornado last week. He also shared his concern for our national storm preparedness, with regard to structure:

“Our buildings and other infrastructural lifelines, such as bridges, tall buildings, airports, cell phone towers, defense related structures such as radars, are simply not designed to resist tornadoes of even lower intensities (EF1 to EF2: 86 to 135 mph), which are more common (90%).”

Prevatt is funded in part by a research grant from the National Science Foundation, specifically to develop engineering solutions for tornado-resilient and sustainable housing communities. He will be interviewed on NPR’s program Science Friday at 2pm Friday, June 7, 2013. 

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CNN recently visited the UF campus and spoke with Dr. Kamran Mohseni about his development of aerial and underwater hurricane drones. Using autonomous vehicles, or drones, as sensor platforms creates a new way of collecting hurricane data, one that reduces costs and would prevent the deaths of storm chasers –  people who risk their lives to deploy sensors during severe weather.  By using an aggregate method of data collection, instead of piloting one large aircraft through a storm, an increased number of inexpensive sensors can – together with underwater sensors that passively navigate warm water currents – paint a much more accurate and detailed picture of where and how hard a storm will hit. This can dramatically improve evacuation efforts in coastal communities and beyond.

Much of the innovation in the design for the drones comes from biomimicry. Mohseni’s research lab includes a squid care facility that analyzes the animal’s naturally efficient underwater locomotion. Collectively, the air and sea crafts are programmed with swarming algorithms, generating group behaviors found in bees, birds and schools of fish. This helps the drones reach their target positioning uniformly, but once they get close enough, the hurricane takes over the controls.

Read more about Mohseni’s lab and the hurricane drones, in UF writer Cindy Spence’s coverage.