Torrents of wind whip around buildings and streets as a tornado vortex consumes a tiny town. Good thing the town in this video is just a model test bed for engineers and researchers at Iowa State University.   

Back in 2004, a team led by engineering professor Partha Sarkar constructed the first ever moving tornado and microburst simulator in the United States. The simulator is an 18-foot-wide, 12-foot-tall cylinder with a large fan that can generate vortex speeds as high as 55 miles per hour. Researchers use it to get a better understanding of how a tornado affects buildings and terrain as it passes through a city.

“From the research in tornadoes, we can never get into the tornado to get any measurements or really know what’s going on in the tornado,” Iowa State University graduate student, Hephziba Thampi explained in a video posted by the university’s engineering college back in 2010.

In this particular video, researchers add dry ice to show the airflow, but during an actual experiment nothing is used to visualize the movement. The miniature-scaled buildings are filled with pressure tips to quantify where there is stress in infrastructures as the tornado passes by. Research groups can then take the data collected from experiments to propose stronger, more tornado-resistant structures.

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