This Machine Creates Mini Versions Of The Worst Hurricanes, For Science

“I'd like a Category 4 cyclone with a side of storm surge, to stay, please”

Hurricane season kicks off today, and luckily the forecast predicts that this year will be a light one, with very few massive hurricanes developing.

But that forecast doesn’t hold true at the University of Miami’s new hurricane-creating machine, where scientists can whip up the strongest storms in existence in a massive seawater-filled tank. (Don’t panic. They’re mini versions in a giant tank.) The SUrge-STructure-Atmosphere INteraction Facility cost $15 million, and opened for business last month, just in time for hurricane season.

At roughly 20 feet wide, 6 feet tall and 65 feet long, the tank holds a miniature ocean and coastline, which can be dotted with structures to help researchers figure out how coasts can withstand huge storms. The sides are thick, transparent acrylic panels affording scientists an unprecedented view of the into the heart of a storm. To see what it looks like, check out this clip from Fox.

“We cannot be sitting here and wait for a hurricane,” structural engineer Antonio Nanni told Nature, “We need to simulate these things physically in the laboratory, then feed the data into models and improve building codes or planning codes.”

The facility is the only one in the world able to replicate Category 5 hurricane conditions. All Hurricanes are rated on the Saffir-Simpson scale which ranks hurricanes from dangerous (Category 1) to catastrophic (Category 5) based on the sustained wind speed. In order to be a Category 5 storm, winds have to blow at speeds of over 157 miles per hour.