Collecting data is critical for scientific progress. But when that data is locked in the heart of gargantuan tornadoes spanning over two miles and rocking 200-plus mph winds–throwing cars and ripping houses right from their foundations–collecting data can become an untenable task that even Storm would think twice about taking on. Simulating those tornados on a smaller scale, however, can still provide lots of useful information, which is the exact reason a team of researchers at Iowa State University have built a massive tornado simulator atop a tiny model town.
The video above, recently reported on by Atlas Obscura, showcases ISU’s tornado simulator and its ability to manipulate and whip winds into a vortex that engulfs a model rural town small enough for an Ant-Man summer pad. The windy vortex can move at up to speeds of 55 mph, and is visible in this case because dry ice has been added to the experiment (although usually tests are done without it).
“We… try to quantify the uncertainties in estimating tornado winds and the corresponding structural damage,” Partha Sarkar, an ISU professor of aerospace engineering, said back in 2014. The way he and his team have done so is by outfitting all of the structures in the small town with sensors that pick up on the intensity of the wind that hits them. Researchers can then apply that data–how intense the wind pressure is on various points of a given structure–and apply it to a computer model of the same structure. By doing this, a given structure’s strengths and weaknesses can be better understood, and, hopefully, corrected before the next tornado hits.
Hephziba Thampi, an ISU graduate student who also worked on the project, explained the tornado simulator back in 2010 (you can check out that video below), and said that it’s ultimately so useful because “Once we know what the problem is, we can fix the problem.” And if those problems are fixed, that means people will be safer the next time Mother Nature does to us what we did to that model town.
What do you think about this tornado simulator? And have you ever had an encounter with one of these sublime and swirling beasts yourself? Let us know in the comments below!