Lubbock is familiar with weather events that incur strong winds, like tornadoes and haboobs. It gets 100-plus-degree heat, ice storms, floods and everything in between. One weather phenomenon the Hub City doesn’t experience, though, is the hurricane. Yet, despite being more than 500 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, Lubbock is home to one of the premier research groups gathering hurricane wind and thermodynamic measurements – Texas Tech University’s Hurricane Research Team (TTUHRT).
“I’ve been with the TTUHRT since its inception in 1998,” said team founder John Schroeder, a professor of atmospheric science in Texas Tech’s Department of Geosciences and the senior director of the National Wind Institute (NWI). “It started with my doctoral dissertation. Back in those days, there was almost no data from a landfalling hurricane. There was flight-level data and things like that offshore, but once it made landfall, the power grid would go down. There would basically be no records on shore.
“So, there was a general need to take measurements that would help engineers in the early stages decide whether the wind in a hurricane was structured like the wind in West Texas or if they were completely different. If they were completely different, then that wasn’t reflected in building design standards.”
The mission of the TTUHRT is to take measurements of the wind field to better understand the core risk associated with hurricanes.
“If you start with a blank slate and you really don’t know what happened in these storms, then it’s very difficult to understand the damage patterns and make improvements in engineering design or draw conclusions from any other research agenda that depends on assessed storm strength,” Schroeder said. “If you have no concept, or a very limited concept of what the actual wind field looked like, you’re just guessing.”
Schroeder says what the TTUHRT does is fundamental to everything that comes after a hurricane because the group helps nail down what actually took place during the storm. He said that’s imperative to know before advancing the research.
“There are all sorts of unique research threads that come out of that for us, that we can pick on and move forward,” he said. “But, fundamentally, knowing what the heck happened during the storm is really important to moving any sort of research forward after the fact. Because if you don’t have it, you’re in the dark right from the start.”
The team has 48 StickNet platforms at their disposal, as well as two Ka-band Mobile Doppler Radar trucks that allow them to receive accurate wind data.
“The StickNet fleet provides a rapidly deployable adaptable array of sensors, so we can move them around and place them wherever we want to and organize them however we want to,” Schroeder said. “With 48 StickNets, you have 48 places that you’re taking measurements from. Wind and pressure are the two biggest things we measure, but wind trumps everything.”
Brian Hirth, a research professor at the NWI and the current leader of the TTUHRT, says the Ka-band Mobile Doppler Radar trucks provide a different perspective.
“With a radar, we’re able to paint a spatially continuous picture of the wind,” he said. “From that, you can start to map the size and translation of things. Our interest is more in the turbulence features, the gusts and the lulls in the wind, how those are moving and evolving through an area. From an engineering perspective, you can have multiple points and records of the wind from a traditional wind sensor, but to be able to see the wind structure in multiple dimensions spatially and see the gust move and evolve and morph is really important and kind of next-generation for hurricane research and wind research in general.”
One big takeaway from all the research the team has conducted is the behavior of the wind inside a hurricane.
“We’ve realized that in most situations within the hurricane vortex, the wind is pretty well behaved relative to what the previous expectations were from an engineering perspective,” Schroeder said. “There may be some small transient events that really change things. Weird things can happen, but statistically they’re unlikely. I think from that perspective, we’ve been able to show that the wind is relatively well behaved over and over again through an archive of data that’s developed over the years.”
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