Following the devastating consequences brought about by last year's Hurricane Katrina, there has been renewed interest from academia and the insurance industry in minimizing the damage caused by these monster storms, and what better way to test structural integrity than by actually exposing buildings to hurricane-style conditions? Traditionally the only way to subject building materials to powerful gusts has been stuffing miniature replicas inside a wind tunnel, but the results of these tests don't accurately convey the real-world effects on life-size structures. Enter Florida International University professor Stephen Leatherman, who, with the help of his students, has constructed a so-called "Wall of Wind" capable of destroying a free-standing house in under 10 minutes. In its current iteration, the Wall uses two stacked eight-foot diameter fans hooked up to a pair of 500-horsepower engines to produce winds in excess of 115-mph, with plumbing that allows water to be fed into the system and whipped against the target. Amazingly, this hurricane machine is only the first of two others the researchers have planned: currently they're working on a six-fan version capable of 140-mph winds, and if they succeed in winning a $5.8 million "Center of Excellence" grant from the state, construction on a monster 18-fan rig will begin in a specially-built steel building next to the Homestead Air Reserve Base. How powerful would the 18-fan setup be? Supposedly it will be capable of producing sustained 160-mph winds, the same type of Category 5 conditions that ravaged New Orleans and even jeopardized the mighty Superdome.

[Via FARK]