South Florida

Living high-up during a hurricane? Expect turbulence.

In this May 20, 2015, photo, a luxury high-rise condominium, left, is in the final phase of construction in Miami. Those who live in the higher floors of a high-rise building will feel the building swaying more in a storm than those who live on the bottom floors.
In this May 20, 2015, photo, a luxury high-rise condominium, left, is in the final phase of construction in Miami. Those who live in the higher floors of a high-rise building will feel the building swaying more in a storm than those who live on the bottom floors. AP

Is your high-rise apartment creaking? Your chandelier swaying? Or your sliding doors flexing during Hurricane Matthew?

That’s all totally normal, said Bill O’Donnell, a structural engineer and partner for DeSimone Consulting Engineers in Miami.

Those who live 10 or more stories up will experience the inevitable effects of building sway during a hurricane.

“A high-rise building is going to move,” O’Donnell said. “There’s nothing you can do to stop that movement.”

The reason for that is because ground-floor objects like grass, trees and buildings create friction against the wind — the more friction against the wind, the slower the breeze blows. But at higher elevation, there are fewer obstacles to slow wind speeds. So when you’re 10 or more stories up, you’re going to feel a stronger gust than your first-floor neighbor, and your home is going to sway a little.

Engineers have all accounted for this. Buildings must pass codes and many modern high-rise buildings — 30 floors or more — are tested for this.

O’Donnell said most modern high-rises go through a wind tunnel test. In these tests, a scaled-down replica of the structure is tested against breezy blasts.

“You can get a very realistic expectation of what the wind pressures are going to be on that building,” he said of the test. “And then from the analysis we can determine how the building is going to behave in terms of movement.”

The engineer said the hurricane experience will be a bit noisy for elevated residents, but he said people shouldn’t be too alarmed.

“(Strong wind) more affects the user experience rather than the user safety,” he said.

To counter some of the unwelcome effects, O’Donnell recommended the following:

  • Stuff towels in sliding door tracks. This will help soak up unwanted water.
  • Fill the bathtub with water. If the power goes out, the electric pumps that bring water to flush toilets are going to go out. The water on-hand will help.
  • Remove any items from the balcony. Those beach chairs and planters will be swirling, hazardous objects that can break your window or your neighbor’s. They can also hurt pedestrians below.

You don’t want this to be your lawn chair.

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