Chasing Canes and Parking Garages

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Apr 16, 2004
1,613
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Austin, Tx
www.TornadoXtreme.com
Since it seems that hurricane chasers always set up and survive by going to steel reinforced concrete parking garages I was wondering how quality a shelter this is in a hurricane. Has anyone examined various parking garages after the fact to see if some were destroyed or do they always make it? I'm thinking that some could be susceptible to surge eroding foundations and causing collapse especially near the coast in intense hurricanes of Cat 4 & 5. I saw that some of the concrete highway overpasses were collapsed by this hurricane. Is it possible Ma Nature will have the last laugh on hurricane chasers one of these days when a garage collapses on them? What do you think?
 

Rob_Davis

I think that structural vulnerability is only one of the serious questions that must be asked.

Another is the physics of wind flow through such structures. Seems like some parallels might be drawn to the infamous underpass debate here.
 
I am not happy about that picture which shows damage to a parking garage. The picture seems to show that one of the floating casinos has broken loose and bashed into the corner of the garage, causing it to collapse.

IMO you wont find a better structure to “chaseâ€￾ a hurricane than a concrete poured steel reinforced garage
 

B Doss

EF2
Aug 17, 2005
111
3
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Austin, TX
Are you implying that because the storm surge possibly pushed a ship into the side of parking facility, causing it to collapse, that the damage to it is not directly related to the hurricane?
 

Dan Robinson

I think there is a big difference between an inland parking garage and one that is right on the water, susceptible to impacts from waves, boats and ships. Obviously waves in deep water are able to lift and move large concrete sections that wind cannot. Some of those photos are showing bridges that were totally destroyed except for the sections that were higher and above the water.

I don't think I have seen an inland (by at least 1/2 mile) parking garage with significant damage. As long as the structure is not on the water and does not have larger buildings surrounding it that could collapse, I would feel comfortable in one for anything up to a mid-range Cat 4. I don't think there is any truly 100% safe spot in the path of a Cat 5/high end Cat 4.

Most parking garages are 'open' and would be susceptible to debris flying through it, damaging at the very least the upper half of vehicles (depending on how high the walls are). There were pieces of aluminum flying into the downtown Mobile, AL garage we were in during Ivan. Some of the safer parking garages have solid inner walls (like the one we stayed at in Fort Pierce, FL during Frances) that can act as a barrier against wind and debris.
 
Not at all B – this is clearly hurricane damage related – the point I wanted to make (as echoed by Dan) is that garages inland are the ones to pick. I have been looking at some Video footage tonight of the coastal impact – it seems that the surge came 0.5 to 0.75 miles inland so picking a garage closer to the shore in this case would be foolish.

The problem with this Garage was this it was right on the coast – I am sure that a better one could have been found.

One thing I do note (actually I assume) is that the garage not only stood up to the hurricane, but also the pressure of the boat pressing against it during the surge and only collapsed one corner – this is pure speculation on my behalf.
 
Apr 13, 2005
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Jackson, Ms
The Beau Rivage parking garage is located right at I110 and hwy 90 in Gulfport. I was wanting to go down there to chase and the only reason I did not was because I didn't want to be stuck there for several days and was afraid the Beau Rivage hotel and casino might have fallen on the garage or near the entrance blocking it off. I have seen footage from some chaser that was in the garage and water made it to the top of the third floor but the garage remained in great condition. There is no better place to stay. I regret I didn't go and I am very happy that I stayed home. I think you guys can relate to that. In other areas on the highway the only thing left were concrete slabs and parking garages. During hurricane Dennis I did not feel unsafe at anytime and I was in the eyewall. It is nothing like being under an overpass because the wind does not really make it to the center of the garage. You can stand in the corner and get great video without getting wet or you can go to the top and stand in the wind and not have to worry about debris nearly as much. I think it would take winds well over 200mph to even compromise a well built steel reinforced concrete garage. The only thing you have to worry about is the garage being tall enough to get out of the surge without putting you on the roof.
 

Rob_Davis

The problem with this Garage was this it was right on the coast – I am sure that a better one could have been found.
Then the question becomes, how far inland is considered to NOT be "right on the coast?" Are the garages on the north side of the beach highway considered to be NOT on the coast? Or do you have to go inland a mile or more?

It is not only those structures which are on the water which are succeptible to damage from boats, ships, barges, and moving buildings. Remember that casino that got moved across the highway? It is now sitting on top of what was another hotel. Boats have been moved at least two miles inland. That means that all of those hotels and garages that our local heroes chose for shelter were just about as vulnerable as they could be.
 

MClarkson

EF5
Sep 2, 2004
892
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Blacksburg, VA
I think biloxi/gulfport is a special case because you did have all those huge barges that you wont have at most other positions.

Still, any position right on the beach is vulnerable to battering waves... which can definetly bring down a parking garge, especially through foundation erosion.

How far inland you have to go depends on the surge you expect... and how fast the terrain rises.
 
While it's true that the barge-inflicted damage to that parking garage was hurricane related, you have to admit it'd have done a heck of a lot more damage if it had been a regular steel or wood framed structure that it hit! If given a choice between a framed structure and a parking garage, the garage wins, hands down.

I was also concerned about the surge height at our parking garage in Gulfport (3 blocks inland). This was the northernmost garage in the town, and everything else north of there was framed construction that we didn't deem safe in the winds, even without the surge factor. So, we opted for a very strong structure with a risk of surge, rather than a structure that might fail, but not be in a surge risk. Turns out the surge only came in about 4 feet on the garage's first level, so we were fine. Now, if this garage had been right ON the beach, then I would have looked elsewhere. Concerns about eroding foundations, boat/barge impacts, or 5 feet of sand in the lower level would make me not wanna hide out there.

Turns out the garage we stayed in was the perfect vantage point to film Katrina. 3 enclosed stairwells, enabling you to film from a variety of angles safely. A solid core on one side where the Hancock Bank building was attached...this was perfect to protect our vehicles. Plus, a nice touch was the use of steel cables covering all the open side areas....acted as a great large debris barrier.
 
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