Bracing For The Storm

May 28, 1998

CLEMSON, S.C. - Clemson University wind researchers question whether the Southeast, already battered by tornadoes, is ready for the looming hurricane season.

"It is important that new homes be built to withstand wind storms, but it is equally important that existing homes be retrofitted to increase their resistance to strong winds. This will not only help protect their home, but also those of their neighbor's that would be in the flight path of any wind-blown debris," said Ben Sill, of Clemson's Wind Load Test Facility which conducts research into making homes and other structures safer from the destructive forces of high wind.

"We need to break the cycle of thinking that says that tornadoes and hurricanes are acts of God and that nothing can be done," said Sill.

"In many cases, better design and construction could have saved houses or lives. The cost of upgrading the resistance of a home under construction or of an existing home is actually not very large," Sill said.

The Clemson facility is the only one in the nation able to give a complete picture of the effects of wind on "low-rise structures" like homes, schools and churches. That's because it tests not only the wind load on structures - i.e., how strong the wind is - but also the resistance of the building itself - i.e., how strong the building is.

Prior to the devastation of Hurricanes Andrew and Hugo, little wind engineering research was conducted on low-rise buildings. What was done generally focused on skyscrapers, long-span bridges and other special expensive structures.

Only in the last ten years have researchers turned their time and expertise to the so-called low-rise structures like homes and schools. Wind hazards like hurricanes and tornadoes result in a greater dollar loss than floods and earthquakes in the United States but receive only a fraction of the research funding. Wind accounts for $1,000 in loss for every $1 in research funding, while flooding accounts for only $70 in loss for every $1 spent and seismic activity accounts for $45 for every $1 spent, Sill said.

Sill, along with other Clemson researchers, was part of the team that made recommendations on construction practices in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. He was co-chairman of the American Society of Civil Engineers conference "Hugo: One Year Later."
-end-


Clemson University

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