Blowing In The Wind

Our Correspondent Visits A Wind Tunnel

What is it really like to find yourself in the middle of a hurricane? One good way to simulate the experience, without the rain or the flooding, is to spend some time in a wind tunnel. This wind tunnel at the University of Maryland lets you experience hurricane force winds safely.

CBS News Correspondent Jose Diaz-Balart went to the wind tunnel earlier this week to see for himself what the winds feel like. To keep him from flying away, he is strapped in, and he wears goggles to protect his eyes.

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At first the machine is set to blow at 74 to 95 mph. This is a Category 1 hurricane. At this level, the storm surge will increase by about five feet. In real life, at this point some siding on your house could start coming out and small plants will be uprooted.

Then, the tunnel is turned up, to 96 to 110 mph. The surge now will be six to eight feet. Trees will be uprooted and become projectiles.

During a hurricane, one of the biggest dangers comes from flying debris. At Texas Tech University, researchers at the Wind Engineering Center are trying to make hurricane-resistant material by using a wind tunnel to mimic the storm's power.

"There's no conventional wall section that we've found that withstands the debris impact," says Dr. Ernie Kiesling, one of the researchers. Experts say you can't hurricane-proof a house; you can only make it more rsistant.

According to Dr. Kiesling, one solution is to build walls that are three layers thick: two layers of brick sandwiched around a layer of reinforced concrete.

At 111 mph, Diaz-Balart has trouble speaking. If he weren't tethered down, he would fly backwards. At 115 mph, Diaz-Balart cuts the power: that is the highest wind a human can stand in a wind tunnel. At its peak, Hurricane Floyd was blowing 40 mph faster than that.

Produced By David Kohn;