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A New Role for Weather Simulations to Assist Wind Engineering Projects
By: Mike Lepage, M.Sc., CCM; Xin Qiu, PhD., ACM; and Valerie Sifton, P.Eng.

When it comes to designing structures that can stand up to the wind, historical wind data are an indispensable tool in the engineers’ tool bag. In many parts of the world, however, these data are hard to come by. Satellite photo of a massive sandstorm sweeping over the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, February 15, 2004 Often, a bridge or high-rise structure is being designed for a location that is many ten’s of kilometers away from the nearest weather station that has a long record of reliable surface wind data. Significant differences in wind climate can occur over these distances.
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

In mountainous terrain, a project may be located fairly close to a weather station, but separated from it by topography, so that its local wind climate is vastly different. In coastal areas, the nearest weather station may be closer to, or farther from the coastline than the project, and is subjected to different effects from hurricanes and other coastal wind phenomena as a result. High wind events in some parts of the world have a unique vertical structure that may not be adequately predicted by conventional models of vertical wind profile (e.g., Chinook winds in mountainous regions of Alberta, Shamal winds over the Arabian Peninsula). Computer modeling is now able to accurately predict wind speeds and directions through an extensive vertical profile.

During a Shamal. upper air data from Abu Dhabi were analyzed to provide a direct prediction of the 50-year wind speed at various heights in the boundary layer. while the wind at the surface is moderate to light. Since then. This was conducted for the Burj Dubai project (the soon to be the world’s tallest building). To date. The figure at the top of page two (The Accuracy of Computer Modeling) shows examples of vertical profiles that were extracted from the model. Given the unusual characteristics of vertical wind profiles during Shamal events. A common phenomenon with Shamal wind events is de-coupling from the surface layer (particularly at night time). and has been widely used throughout the world. The advantages of modeling includes the level of detail as well as the freedom to obtain modeling data for any location and time. A model called MM5 was used. WIND STORMS IN THE MIDDLE EAST Strong northerly and northwesterly wind events that occur in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf are known as the “Shamal” (meaning “North”). in studying wind loads for projects throughout the world. and the vertical profile of wind speed between the surface and the level of maximum wind speed can be unusually steep. such as producing regional wind maps to assist developers in finding good sites for wind farms. The highest wind core (U > 24m/s) is to the northwest of Dubai over the Arabian Gulf. In addition. we have applied numerical meteorological models to the following wind engineering problems: Determining design wind speeds in locations that do not have suitable historical wind observations. RWDI began to use numerical meteorological models to simulate large-scale weather patterns for air quality research. computer data run times will continue to shrink. Thirty years of hourly wind data were obtained for the nearest weather station and it was analyzed to estimate a 50-year peak gust speed. Not only could these equations be extrapolated in time. in order to model them effectively. by solving the fundamental equations of atmospheric physics on a 3-D grid and extrapolating those equations in time. Assessing vertical wind profiles and turbulence intensity in areas affected by wind events with unusual vertical structure. Burj Dubai Figure 2: Nested Model Domains in the MM5 Modeling MODELING MADAGASCAR WINDS In Madagascar. meteorological models) are useful for a broad range of purposes. In the late 1990’s. were not hourly (useable readings available at an average rate of approximately two times per day). winds typically reach 30 to 40kts near the surface during the daytime. Most recently. RWDI has been expanding its Linux computing cluster to the point where it now has over 50 high-speed processors (May. A recent example is meteorological modeling of Shamal wind storms in the Dubai area. to ensure that vertical profiles in the boundary layer were well characterized. The Shamal wind events are large in scale and. however. with each nest being at 3 times higher spatial resolution than the domain in which it is embedded. at 0400 GMT on May 4. They are caused by the presence of a large pressure gradient that develops behind a cold front passage. so that the wind aloft (several hundred metres above the surface) is very strong. 15 of those layers were placed in the lowest 1500m above the surface. Courtesy of Skidmore. however.) RWDI has encountered these issues often. 1999. Over three decades ago.. In these cases. The resultant speed was scaled to the top of the boundary layer using a traditional power-law extrapolation. RWDI previously used long-term hourly wind data from the surface weather station in Dubai to predict the 50-year return period wind speed. RWDI has applied meteorological models to other applications. these data were considered to provide a less reliable estimate of 50-year wind speed than the surface data at Dubai. Owings & Merrill LLP . as well as a vertical slice passing through Dubai.THE ACCURACY OF COMPUTER MODELING In the following graph. At this moment. diffusion and chemical transformation of air pollutants over large regions. the task of simulating an entire year of weather conditions was impractical because of the intensive computational requirements of the simulation. but they could also be extrapolated in space. the balloon data obtained from Abu Dhabi International Airport at 04:00 1992/5/27 are alike to the MM5 modeling data at the same location and time. at 700m above the surface. Figure 1: Selecting Shamal Wind Events to be Simulated INCREASED COMPUTER DATA RUN TIME EFFICIENCIES Until recently. Today. 2006) that can simultaneously perform the needed calculations. An example of this is a recent project we undertook to determine the design wind speed for a remote mining site in a mountainous region of Madagascar.e. RWDI reviewed the historical data to identify several representative Shamal events (Figure 1) and then simulated these events with a numerical weather model. A full year simulation that previously would have required several months of run time can be performed within two to three weeks. But there was no way of knowing how applicable the resulting speed was for the mine site. we have become the first engineering consulting firm to apply these models to the field of wind engineering. and wind direction shifts show about 100 degrees of changes from surface up to 1400m. Upperlevel subsidence in the high-pressure cell behind the front reinforces the low-level northwesterly winds. RWDI has taken advantage of sophisticated meteorological simulation tools to resolve the issues. it was felt that additional information was needed to have a better understanding of the 50-year wind speed at the top of the boundary layer. Shamals produce the most widespread hazardous weather known in the region. As such. The figure on the bottom of page one shows an example of output from the meteorological model. This was done efficiently by using a series of nested model domains (Figure 2). ANALYSIS OF HISTORICAL MEASUREMENTS For the purpose of determining design wind speeds for highrises in Dubai. SIMULATING SHAMAL WIND EVENTS With this goal in mind. As the cluster continues to grow and older processors are upgraded. The simulation had 31 vertical layers and. it is necessary to model a large geographic area. one could predict future weather patterns. The 3-D meteorological fields produced by these models were used as input to air quality models that simulated the transport. Meteorological modeling of Shamal wind storms in the Dubai area were conducted for the Burj Dubai super tall building project located in the United Arab Emirates. This 3-D view illustrates a horizontal slice of the wind field. high-resolution numerical weather simulations (i. This Shamal event shows strong wind shears for both wind speeds and wind directions. The Abu Dhabi upper air data. In recent years. numerical weather simulations emerged as a prominent tool for weather forecasting. which was developed by Penn State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US. Continuous increases in computer power over the past 30 years have allowed these simulations to be run at ever-increasing resolution in both space and time. (See Madagascar section for more discussion on model accuracy. to determine existing and future weather patterns in places where there are no observing stations. Moderate to strong winds can raise desert surface material and reduce visibility. Over the past few years. Wind speed peaks (18 m/s) occur between 600 and 700m. northwesterly wind dominates the region and the wind speed is about 20m/s at 700m above Dubai. These simulations were based on the idea that. the wind speed typically peaks at elevations between 500m and 1000m above the surface. The innermost domain had a horizontal grid-spacing of 4 kilometres. RWDI took on the challenge of estimating a design wind speed for a proposed mining operation that was over 100 km away from the nearest meteorological station and located in an area of significant topography.

the National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). shows the observed and predicted wind speed distribution for the historical weather station (Antananarivo). Figure 3: Wind Speed Distribution for Antananarivo A scattergram of hourly wind speeds at Antananarivo plotted against modelled hourly wind speeds at the mine site shows a tendency for lower wind speeds at the mine site (Figure 4). Rather than using MM5.823. for example. new and exciting uses for the models will be • • • • Wind and Microclimate Services: RWDI Anemos Ltd. . A single year of simulated weather data is not enough to derive statistics for extreme wind speeds. (519). the Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA). RWDI performed an hour-by-hour simulation of an entire year of weather conditions over Madagascar. One promising future use will be to link weather simulations like MM5 and WRF directly with CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and other high-resolution flow modeling tools that RWDI is developing (see www. Figure 4: Hourly Wind Speed Scatter Plot Comparing Antananarivo to the Mine Site CONCLUSION As RWDI continues to apply numerical weather simulations for Wind Engineering.rwdi. Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin Inc. the model shows good agreement with the observed data. Based on a careful analysis of these data. While not perfect.470250 www. which is the recent product of a joint development between the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). a new generation of meteorological model called WRF was used. but it is enough to make a side-by-side statistical comparison with the same year of data from the nearest weather station. Noise & Vibration • Microclimate Environmental Engineering • Regulatory Permitting Hazard & Risk • Industrial Processes Wind Engineering Visit our web sites for contact information around the world.To address this problem. as the mine is located in a valley setting. using a set of nested model domains similar to that used for Dubai. This is perhaps not This allows the development of correction factors that can be applied to the extreme wind statistics that were produced from over 30 years of data at that station. the Forecast System Laboratory (FSL).virtualwind. 01582.1311 www. we estimated that the 50-year wind speed at the mine site would be about 20% lower than that at Antananarivo. and various universities in the US. This will allow RWDI to predict local wind and weather effects on structures under a variety of meteorological conditions using computer simulations.rwdi-anemos. Figure 3.

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