Building Damage

Main Content

FEMA P-320 – Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business 

Extreme winds can cause several kinds of damage to a building. Figure II.1 shows how extreme winds affect a building and helps explain why these winds cause buildings to fail.

To understand what happens when extreme winds strike, you must first understand that tornado and hurricane winds are not constant. Wind speeds, even in these extreme wind events, rapidly increase and decrease. An obstruction, such as a house, in the path of the wind causes the wind to change direction. This change in wind direction increases pressure on parts of the house. The combination of increased pressures and fluctuating wind speeds creates stress on the house that frequently causes connections between building components to fail. For example, the roof or siding can be pulled off or the windows can be pushed in.

illustration of the effect of extreem winds on building roof and walls

Buildings that fail under the effects of extreme winds often appear to have exploded, giving rise to the misconception that the damage is caused by unequal wind pressures inside and outside the building. This misconception has led to the myth that during an extreme wind event, the windows and doors in a building should be opened to equalize the pressure. In fact, opening a window or door allows wind to enter a building and increases the risk of building failure.

Damage can also be caused by flying debris (referred to as windborne missiles). If wind speeds are high enough, missiles can be thrown at a building with enough force to penetrate windows, walls, or the roof. For example, an object such as a 2” x 4” wood stud weighing 15 pounds, when carried by a 250-mph wind, can have a horizontal speed of 100 mph and enough force to penetrate most common building materials used in houses today. Even a reinforced masonry wall will be penetrated unless it has been designed and constructed to resist debris impact during extreme winds. Because missiles can severely damage and even penetrate walls and roofs, they threaten not only buildings but the occupants as well.

Photo of palm tree pierced by plywood missile, Hurricane Andrew

Last Updated: 
07/24/2014 - 16:00
Back to Top