Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Mechanical and Materials Engineering


Horia Hangan


Scaling ratios of simulations are essential to research the effect of tornadic winds on buildings and structures, in both experimental and numerical studies. In order to determine the proper scaling, access to wind fields of simulated and full-scale tornadoes is needed. For the first time here Doppler radar tornado velocity fields are analyzed and compared to experimental tornado-like vortices data in order to establish the scaling necessary to simulate tornadoes in a physical laboratory setting.

A prototype three-dimensional wind testing chamber capable of simulating tornadoes, named Model WindEEE Dome (MWD), was designed and built. Tornado-like vortices were simulated and investigated for swirl ratios ranging from 0.12 to 1.29. Flow visualization captured a laminar single-celled core at very low swirl ratios, a vortex breakdown bubble formation and then the drowned vortex jump at moderate swirl ratios, and a two-celled turbulent vortex at high swirl ratios. The surface static pressure of simulated tornadoes was measured and the mean velocity field of the tornado-like vortices was characterized using Particle Image Velocimetry method. It was shown that for radial Reynolds numbers greater than 6.7×104, the core radius and the swirl ratio corresponding the transition from laminar to turbulent are nearly independent of the radial Reynolds number. Local peaks in the axial profile of the tangential velocities near the surface, together with the very large surface pressure deficits, observed in the experimental data, are distinctive characteristics of tornado-like vortices and may be responsible for structural damages in tornadic winds.

Nine volumes of single-Doppler radar data obtained from five tornado events were analyzed using the Ground-Based Velocity Track Display method and a unique dataset of three-dimensional axisymmetric tornado flow fields was created. This full-scale dataset contains various vortex structures spanning from a weak single-celled vortex to a very strong two-celled vortex and wind fields with the overall maximum tangential velocities ranging from 36.3 m/s to 62 m/s. The structure of the vortex was discussed in detail for each volume of data. The swirl ratio of the full-scale data was calculated and related to the forensic EF-Scale (Enhanced Fujita Scale) for each volume. It was observed that swirl ratio increases as the tornado vortex intensifies which is consistent with laboratory results.

Lastly, experimentally simulated tornado-like vortices were compared to the field tornadoes. The length and velocity scaling ratios of the simulation and the swirl ratio of the full-scale tornadoes were identified. It is concluded that the MWD apparatus can generate tornado-like vortices equivalent to EF0 to low-end EF3 rated tornadoes in nature. Also, an average length scale of 1550 is determined for simulating mid-range EF1 to low-end EF3 rated tornadoes with fully turbulent flow characteristics.