Inside the World's Largest Hurricane Simulator

There’s a category 5 hurricane brewing in Florida, but it won’t be making landfall on any of the beaches or sweeping away any buildings. This hurricane is man-made, and contained in a 75 foot-long acrylic tank at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. This Surge-Structure-Atmosphere Interaction Facility (SUSTAIN for short) is the world’s largest hurricane simulator—six times the size of its closest rival—and after years of planning, it’s up and running

The simulator is one part of a new $50 million Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex at the university. It is “the size of a small house,” as Brian Lam at Popular Science put it, and can hold 38,000 gallons of saltwater. A series of paddles create ripples and waves of different sizes and velocity, and with the flip of a switch, a 1700 horsepower fan (“originally suited for things like ventilating mine shafts”) sends 150mph winds whipping across the water, transforming the tank into a roiling tempest. 

By studying conditions inside the SUSTAIN simulator, researchers hope to make more accurate predictions about how strong a hurricane will be, where exactly it will land, and what it will do to buildings. "Over the last 20 years our track forecasts have been getting better and better,” Brian Haus, chair of the Division of Applied Marine Physics at Miami University told Phys.org. “But the thing that hasn't gotten any better over the past 20 years is hurricane intensity forecasts." 

Haus, a self-proclaimed “wave-junkie,” wants to know how, at a molecular level, hurricanes gain strength over warm water, without having to actually put himself or anyone else in the middle of a real storm. “At sea, you have to deal with the real beast, but in the lab, we have the opportunity to create the hurricane when and how we want it,” he says. The sheer size of the tank lets researchers recreate realistic oceanic conditions, and because the tank has see-through walls (made of 3-inch thick acrylic), they can get a good look at what’s happening inside the storm they’ve created. They’ll be using cameras and lasers to measure the changes in the water and atmosphere. 

According to the NOAA National Hurricane Center, a category 5 hurricane will destroy most of the framed homes in its path. But Haus says “most of our building codes and models for how we build in coastal areas are not based on any real information about what happens in these conditions. At one end of the giant tank sits a miniature house, which will be rigged with sensors and put to the test to help researchers get a better understanding of how man-made structures fare in large storms.

The complex has been open for a few months and has already yielded interesting information about improving hurricane forecasting. 

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Afternoon Map
The Most Popular Infomercial Product in Each State

You don't have to pay $19.95 plus shipping and handling to discover the most popular infomercial product in each state: AT&T retailer All Home Connections is giving that information away for free via a handy map.

The map was compiled by cross-referencing the top-grossing infomercial products of all time with Google Trends search interest from the past calendar year. So, which crazy products do people order most from their TVs?

Folks in Arizona know that it's too hot there to wear layers; that's why they invest in the Cami Secret—a clip-on, mock top that gives them the look of a camisole without all the added fabric. No-nonsense New Yorkers are protecting themselves from identity theft with the RFID-blocking Aluma wallet. Delaware's priorities are all sorted out, because tons of its residents are still riding the Snuggie wave. Meanwhile, Vermont has figured out that Pajama Jeans are the way to go—because who needs real pants?

Unsurprisingly, the most popular product in many states has to do with fitness and weight loss, because when you're watching TV late enough to start seeing infomercials, you're probably also thinking to yourself: "I need to get my life together. I should get in shape." Seven states—Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Utah, and Wisconsin—have invested in the P90X home fitness system, while West Virginia and Arkansas prefer the gentler workout provided by the Shake Weight. The ThighMaster is still a thing in Illinois and Washington, while Total Gym and Bowflex were favored by South Dakota and Wyoming, respectively. 

Kitchen items are clearly another category ripe for impulse-buying: Alabama and North Dakota are all over the George Forman Grill; Alaska and Rhode Island are mixing things up with the Magic Bullet; and Floridians must be using their Slice-o-matics to chop up limes for their poolside margaritas.

Cleaning products like OxiClean (D.C. and Hawaii), Sani Sticks (North Carolina), and the infamous ShamWow (which claims the loyalty of Mainers) are also popular, but it's Proactiv that turned out to be the big winner. The beloved skin care system claimed the top spot in eight states—California, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas—making it the most popular item on the map.

Peep the full map above, or check out the full study from All Home Connections here.

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Design
A Florida Brewery Created Edible Six-Pack Rings to Protect Marine Animals

For tiny scraps of plastic, six-pack rings can pose a huge threat to marine life. Small enough and ubiquitous enough that they’re easy to discard and forget about, the little plastic webs all too often make their way to the ocean, where animals can ingest or become trapped in them. In order to combat that problem, Florida-based Saltwater Brewery has created what they say is the world’s first fully biodegradable, compostable, edible six-pack rings.

The edible rings are made of barley and wheat and are, if not necessarily tasty, at least safe for animals and humans to ingest. Saltwater Brewery started packaging their beers with the edible six-pack rings in 2016. They charge slightly more for their brews to offset the cost of the rings' production. They hope that customers will be willing to pay a bit more for the environmentally friendly beers and are encouraging other companies to adopt the edible six-pack rings in order to lower manufacturing prices and save more animals.

As Saltwater Brewery president Chris Gove says in the video above: “We want to influence the big guys and kind of inspire them to also get on board.”

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