Florida Tech to study how Tropical Storm Isaias’ winds impact Satellite Beach house

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By deploying wind sensors across Satellite Beach, Florida Institute of Technology researchers hope Tropical Storm Isaias will help engineers understand how fierce gusts damage homes within suburban neighborhoods.

About 9 a.m. Sunday, “a little R2-D2-looking unit” took a commanding position near the dune line at the Sand Castle oceanfront condominium complex, said Steven Lazarus, a meteorologist and Florida Tech professor.

This stubby-shaped device is a ZephIR 300, which uses lidar (a pulsed laser) to measure wind speeds up to 1,000 feet above the ground.

Two hours later, a Florida Coastal Monitoring Program crew erected a portable 10-meter weather tower a few feet from the ZephIR 300. Then they set up a second weather tower in the Satellite Beach Post Office parking lot on South Patrick Drive, roughly a 1.3-mile drive inland.

These wind-speed instruments will collect information during Isaias — in tandem with 16 wind-pressure sensors on the roof of a Ellwood Drive single-family home, two blocks from the beach.

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Lazarus said researchers will analyze the Isaias anemometer data over the coming months.

“We want to see the difference in wind profile as it goes from the beach to a suburban environment,” said Jean-Paul Pinelli, a Florida Tech mechanical and civil engineering professor.  “Our goal is to better understand the reaction between the hurricane winds and the structure. Most of the information that we have comes from wind tunnels. They are good — but they have limitations because they are scale models,” Pinelli said.

Florida Tech received a three-year, $421,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology for the wind-impact project.

The Florida Coastal Monitoring Program is a hurricane research venture involving Florida Tech and the University of Florida, Florida International University and Clemson University. 

The goal: Find ways to cost-effectively reduce hurricane wind damage to homes. Project managers point out that 85% of Florida’s increasing population lives at or near the state’s 1,200 miles of coastline.

“The end game is, we’ve integrated engineers and people who study fluid dynamics and meteorology all into one group to help improve building codes,” Lazarus said.

“It’s all about building smarter, more efficiently, and safer,” he said.

The Florida Tech team deployed the technology last September in Satellite Beach during Hurricane Dorian, which skirted the Space Coast. However, lidar recorded a 55 mph wind gust about 32 feet off the ground, along with a squall-generated 65 mph gust at the 82-foot mark.

Pinelli is founder and director of WHIRL, the university’s Wind and Hurricane Impact Laboratory.

In October 2018, Pinelli toured Mexico Beach and Panama City with a field assessment team after Category 5 Hurricane Michael swept ashore. The team conducted door-to-door surveys and chronicled catastrophic structural damages, researching Panhandle building code and construction practices. 

Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or [email protected] Twitter: @RickNeale1. To subscribe: https://cm.floridatoday.com/specialoffer/

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