In an ideal world, every construction project would be blessed with perfect weather for the full duration of its timeline. In the real world, however, a variety of circumstances beyond our control wreak havoc on construction sites. The following are a few of the most common construction project disruptions caused by wild weather.Crane CollapsesCranes can only handle so much wind. Collapses may occur during hurricanes or tornadoes. This once again became clear during Hurricane Irma. Prior to the storm making landfall, the City of Miami issued warnings about tower construction cranes perched at various locations. While these cranes were built to withstand winds reaching up to 145 miles per hour, they were never meant to handle a Category 5 storm. Ultimately, these warnings proved correct: a tower crane collapsed on a high-rise construction site. Later, a second crane
collapsed and dangled from an incomplete high rise. Although significant precautions were taken to secure the cranes prior to the hurricane making landfall, experts believe that a micro-tornado thwarted these efforts.
Partially completed buildings are uniquely susceptible to collapse during tornadoes and other high-wind events. Sometimes, these collapses are preceded by crane collapses. In 2016, for example, a crane weighing over 80 tons smashed a work shed in Dongguan, China. The collapse resulted in 18 deaths.
Structural collapses can be dangerous even if they don’t involve an entire building or aren’t preceded by crane collapse. For example, a metal structure atop a Bedford Avenue building in Brooklyn collapsed in May, 2018, sending metal beams flying. Just two months earlier, this building had been given a stop-work order for illegal construction.
Erosion Caused By Wind
If topsoil, sand, or mulch are not properly secured, these materials may be blown from the job site, ultimately leading to erosion. While erosion is common over long periods of time, it can occur rapidly on construction sites—especially when wind is involved. Rapid erosion may lead to washouts or mudslides, especially during severe rain storms or hurricanes.
Whether caused by erosion, poor water control, or other factors, flooding is a huge risk at coastal construction sites—especially during hurricanes. For example, a concerned YouTube user recorded the aftermath of construction site flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. Occasionally, flooding may also be caused by burst pipes. Because this is usually attributed to cold weather, this form of flooding is not as common in warm weather locales like California, Texas or Louisiana. Still, it’s possible for pipes to burst during record lows—and contractors are often ill-prepared for such circumstances.
Hurricanes and tornadoes are far from the only source of calamity on construction sites. Lighting can be just as dangerous. Sadly, it is regularly overlooked as an occupational hazard, leaving sites and workers at risk. Construction workers perched atop tall towers, on ladders, or in cranes can be prime targets for lightning strikes, especially if situated near conducive materials such as metal.
Construction site lightning disasters are more common than contractors suspect. Headlines from tragedies abound, although they typically don’t attract as much attention as large-scale disasters. For example, a Kansas City construction worker was recently killed when lightning struck him in the back—seemingly out of nowhere, according to witnesses.
Lightning strikes are of particular concern in Louisiana and Texas; statistics published in the Journal of Environmental Health indicate that more than ten residents die by lightning strike in any given year, compared to under five in many states.
Takeaways for Construction Companies, Vendors, and Suppliers
It’s no secret that Louisiana, Texas and California and construction sites in those states can all fall victim to nasty severe weather. Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana in 2005, and future storms promise to do the same. There’s no escaping inclement conditions, but careful preparations can at least reduce the potential for construction site disasters.
Worker safety is of paramount importance. A detailed emergency response plan can ensure that all employees and contractors remain safe when sudden weather events arise. The project office should always have a battery-operated radio (and extra batteries) on site for checking the weather.
If possible, construction sites should have safe zones. In tornadoes or high-wind events, this could include a basement or a windowless interior room on the ground floor. Construction workers should never seek shelter in standing vehicles. If no safe zone is available, driving to a safer location may be the best option.
Contractors and subcontractors need to take all risks seriously, no matter how small they may seem. An apparently far-off thunderstorm could lead to a deadly lightning strike if workers don’t move to safety quickly enough.
Erosion prevention is also critical. In areas prone to heavy wind, it’s important to minimize loose materials, or at minimum, cover them with a tarp. Stormwater control is also necessary, as erosion often occurs in response to improperly controlled water.
Flooding precautions should include moving stored materials away from flood zones and protecting incomplete underground pipelines. If sufficient time is available, sandbags and cofferdams can be used to protect construction sites from heavy flooding.
Natural disasters are impossible to prevent, but proper precautions can minimize the damage to construction sites. In Louisiana and Texas, this means preparing for a variety of weather disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, thunderstorms, and heavy rain. While California residents don’t need to worry about hurricanes or tornadoes, flash flooding and severe storms can still plague the state.