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Oshawa wind tunnel creates hurricane-like conditions

The ACE Climatic Wind Tunnel at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa is a playground for scientists, engineers, architects and even film studios.

University of Ontario Institute of Technology facility can simulate climates from the Arctic to the desert

CBC Toronto weather specialist Karen Johnson holds her ground as the ACE wind tunnel at UOIT pushes 113 km/h winds. (James Wattie/CBC)

A Toronto-area university facility can create Category 5 hurricane force winds in minutes.

Think of it as a make-your-own climate simulator.

The ACE Climatic Wind Tunnel at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa is a playground for scientists, engineers, architects and filmmakers.

It is the only climatic wind tunnel in Canada and it's gaining reputation worldwide.

Watch weather specialist Karen Johnson tests the ACE Climatic Wind Tunnel at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. 1:03

"We have the most sophisticated climatic wind tunnel in the world," said John Komar, director of engineering and operations at UOIT. "We can actually direct weather."

With an array of lights hanging above and a larger than life turbine, ACE can create temperatures from –40 to 60 C and wind speeds high enough to qualify as a Category 5 hurricane.

"We've pushed this tunnel up to 300 km/h," Komar told CBC Toronto. "We don't do little models here. We do full-scale."

John Komar, director of engineering and operations at UOIT, says ACE is the "most sophisticated climatic wind tunnel in the world." (James Wattie/CBC)

From cars to hovercrafts

ACE, which stands for Automotive Centre of Excellence, was made for testing vehicles.

Automobile companies frequently use the space to put their vehicles through rigorous conditions, checking everything from aerodynamics to how paint holds up in blizzards or desert-like weather.

ACE is mainly used for automotive testing. (YouTube/ACE Wind Tunnel)

What separates ACE from other wind tunnels in the world, according to Komar, is an 11-metre turntable that allows vehicles to be turned into the wind stream.

The five-storey building housing ACE is large enough for an assortment of vehicles — including hovercrafts.

Komar says a company wanted to test hovercrafts for use on Georgian Bay at ACE.

"It's not icing over anymore so snowmobiles are not the mode. They're actually using hovercrafts to get to the islands. We help companies develop that kind of strategy of being in blizzards and not conking out."

Since it's creation, ACE has become a jack-of-all-trades for product development.

Architecture

Remember all those reports of ice falling from buildings during the winter?

Architects use ACE to design buildings that aren't susceptible to creating those dangerous conditions.

The ACE wind tunnel at UOIT is capable of pushing 300 km/h winds in a targeted space. (James Wattie/CBC)

"We've had the full-scale sides of buildings where we do ice-shedding," Komar said.

"Say in Toronto or New York City, architects are looking at ice mitigation strategies of how to prevent those sheets from falling. We can give them a full blizzard and ice, bring the sunshine, create the ice and go down cool. We can give them four days in eight hours."

Emergency services training

Toronto firefighters inside the ACE wind tunnel practising in blizzard-like conditions. (YouTube/ACE Wind Tunnel)

First responders have also completed training exercises under intense weather conditions created by ACE.

Komar says Toronto firefighters are among the emergency personnel who've trained in the facility in full gear, taking off hoses and getting pumps going in cold.

Sports

From amateurs with Olympic dreams to daredevil professionals, ACE also helps athletes excel.

A wingsuit pilot tests aerodynamics in the ACE wind tunnel. (YouTube/ACE Wind Tunnel)

In the coming weeks, Canadian Olympic staff will head to UOIT to test out slick, new uniforms for speed skaters and skiers.

Film production

Suicide Squad took over Toronto when it was filmed in the summer of 2015.

The comic book movie Suicide Squad was filmed in Toronto in 2015. (Clay Enos/Warner Bros./Associated Press)

But while they were in the GTA, film crews also headed to Oshawa to shoot a prison escape scene at ACE.