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Wind dome simulates violent weather

This is an old-ish story, but Christmas is a slow news week, and anyway it’s kind of cool: Tyler Hamilton reports that the University of Western Ontario is building a first-of-its-kind hexagonal wind tunnel capable of simulating real-world wind conditions such as tornadoes, storm downbursts, low-level jets, and gusts. The system will have many uses, chief among them improving the design of wind turbines.

> It will be a six-sided structure that’s 40 metres across. The walls and ceiling will be embedded with a matrix of 240 fans, each about a half-metre wide and capable of creating wind speeds up to 108 kilometres per hour.

> The fans will also be capable of operating in reverse and changing direction, creating the potential to physically simulate all sorts of weather chaos.

The new wind dome has other tricks: for example, the floor can be quickly reconfigured to simulate topographical features like rocks and ridge lines. The device can contain an entire wind farm built in miniature. Horia Hangan, the system’s designer, is thinking ahead to future enhancements:

> “And we’re already thinking about phase two and three, in which we’ll bring in water to simulate rain and floods. Also particulates like sand and dust and ice. I really think of this as a weather machine.”

In other news, Hamilton brings us up to speed on Catch the Wind, the company that has built a laser-based system to predict changes in wind speed and direction before they reach a turbine’s blades. In an early trial in Nebraska, the system was able to increase the electrical output of one turbine by an average of 12.3 percent.

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