Living through Wilma and the far deadlier Hurricane Katrina, known for causing mass devastation in Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico that same year, propelled Haus to find ways of better understanding the physics of storm strength, and how the warmth of the ocean can power a hurricane.
Researchers also hope to use SUSTAIN -- which is six times larger than any wind-water hurricane simulator ever built -- to explore how storms will damage homes and buildings along the coast.
"This is important because 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," says Haus.
Other groups, such as the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety in South Carolina, recreate high winds, hail storms and even wildfires using life-sized homes.
But even placing sensors on the miniature house inside the SUSTAIN tank to study how it is affected by a storm can help scientists, according to Paul Wilson, vice president of model development at RMS (Risk Management Solutions) in London.
"Understanding how buildings respond to extreme weather events, those are projects which we find incredibly useful. They just add to the body of knowledge on which our models are based."
Miami is home to many storm researchers, including the National Hurricane Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hurricane Research Division, and Florida International University which houses a Wall of Wind that simulates Category 5 hurricane gusts.
NOAA and the US Air Force regularly send aircraft into the heart of hurricanes, where pilots drop parachute-lofted tubes, called sondes, to measure how the wind changes with height just above the sea surface.
Mark Powell, a former NOAA scientist who flew some of those missions into hurricanes and now heads a company called HWind Scientific, says SUSTAIN "has a lot of promise for research," and is hopeful that the enthusiasm will spread beyond the tank itself.
"When you have a big facility like the SUSTAIN facility, there is a tendency to focus on the facility and the type of work it can do, but there is a human element too," adds Powell.
"So what I hope will happen with that facility is that there is a much stronger interaction between all the talent in the Miami area. They need to interact to really make breakthroughs."