As I write this from my Tampa Bay-area home, Tropical Storm Isaac is nearing the Florida Keys and threatening to become a hurricane. Outside my door, it's just a cloudy day so far, with some slight breeze. But that's going to change soon enough, with Isaac's projected path through the Gulf expected to bring heavy rains and winds to the Tampa area tonight, and into tomorrow. (The start of the Republican National Convention, taking place in Tampa, has been been pushed back a day until Tuesday.)
My home was built within the past decade, meaning its construction adheres to Florida building codes that have been strengthened considerably over the years. Sitting in a home that you know was built to better withstand the forces of tropical cyclones than homes of the not-too-distant past is definitely a good thing. Of course, as any Floridian knows, there's one main reason these enhanced building codes exist: Hurricane Andrew, which slammed into South Florida 20 years ago this week.
In its Aug. 26 edition, the Miami Herald published a column by Kate Hale, Miami-Dade County's emergency management director when Andrew hit, about the "debt of gratitude" the state of Florida owes to Andrew. Obviously, it was a tragic event. As Hale notes, nearly two dozen people died, and roughly a quarter of a million people became temporarily homeless. It remains the second costliest storm in U.S. history, behind only Katrina. But there's been a definite silver lining to that horrible storm, such as the aforementioned building code improvements, as well as enhanced emergency preparedness by the state of Florida, and changes in the way storms are forecast.
Of course, those improved building codes haven't just benefitted homeowners. Commercial construction requirements have been strengthened, too, and builders of projects in the Miami area—often high-rises—regularly tout that their projects are built to withstand Category 4-level winds, for example.
Earlier this week, NPR recounted the storm's surprise development. Forecasters had expected it to fall apart, and it didn't become a hurricane until Aug. 22, just two days before it would slam into Miami as a Category 5 with winds over 160 mph.
The folks over at Florida International University's College of Engineering and Computing, in Miami, obviously haven't forgotten about Andrew's legacy, either. The college, working in association with FIU's International Hurricane Research Center (IHRC), just this month unveiled their Wall of Wind, or WoW, as they call it. They claim it's the nation's most powerful hurricane simulator, a 12-fan behemoth that can create sustained winds of 140 mph.
In the above video, Arindam Gan Chowdhury, an FIU professor and director of the IHRC's Lab For Wind Engineering Reseach, says the group's goal is to generate better information that can be used to further strengthen building codes and, he adds, "achieve a hurricane-resilient community."
In short, Chowdhury says, "We don't want things to happen that happened 20 years ago when Hurricane Andrew hit."
Amen to that. And here's another Youtube video, uploaded by the IHRC, of the WoW's construction.