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Yesterday’s Storms Rocked My World (And Our Office)

St. Paul Place was realling swinging yesterday.
St. Paul Place was realling swinging yesterday.

Yesterday around 4 o’clock, whenever that front of storms blew through, we had an interesting experience in our downtown building. D Magazine occupies the top two floors of St. Paul Place, the 21st and 22nd. The editorial desks sit on what was yesterday’s leeward side of the building, on 21. We turned off the lights so that we could more easily see into the darkness outside. Rain was swirling, blowing sideways. Zac and I walked over to the art department, on the windward side of the building. Rain hit the windows so hard that it sounded like gravel.

Then I started to feel what I thought was vertigo. It was like the gyroscope in my head was malfunctioning, not badly enough to make me lose my balance. But it was disturbing. That’s when I saw the hanging lights swinging like we were on a cruise ship, and I realized that the entire building was swaying.

“I’m getting the hell out of here,” I told Zac and quickly headed to gather my stuff.

Did I overreact? Yup. But two forces were at work on me: one, I am a pansy who is afraid of heights. Two, I’d recently read a story about how even moderately rough seas can cause something called parametric rolling in huge container ships, sending cargo overboard and even sometimes sinking the boats. In my mildly panicked state, I realized that the building was probably designed to sway in high winds, but what if an unusually steady, strong wind set up a sway frequency that the engineers hadn’t planned for? What if the whole effing building collapsed?

Like I said. Total pansy. The tornado warning was issued. I wound up in the elevator with our CFO, whose office is up on 22. “Did you feel the swaying?” I asked him. He looked at me like I was child who needed assurance that thunder wouldn’t kill him. “Yeah,” he said. “It was just a little swaying.” In my defense, that is exactly the sort of thing that someone would say — right before a building collapses!

Anyway, we all survived. St. Paul Place is still standing. But this makes me wonder what it was like in the other buildings downtown yesterday. I mean, we’re only 22 stories. What was in like in the Bank of America tower, some of those places with some real height?

  • Tim Rogers

    PS: Here’s some cool science from How Stuff Works:

    “Some buildings already use advanced wind-compensating dampers. The Citicorp Center in New York, for example, uses a tuned mass damper. In this complex system, oil hydraulic systems push a 400-ton concrete weight back and forth on one of the top floors, shifting the weight of the entire building from side to side. A sophisticated computer system carefully monitors how the wind is shifting the building and moves the weight accordingly. Some similar systems shift the building’s weight based on the movement of giant pendulums.”

    http://science.howstuffworks.com/engineering/structural/skyscraper4.htm

  • Wylie H Dallas

    You know that Citicorp Center was initially improperly designed for wind, and had to be secretly modified at great expense, correct?

  • D. Shapiro

    Incredible.

  • Preston Kissman

    A case study that is widely used in Engineering and Architecture schools for both design and ethical lessons.

  • Peter Kurilecz

    many years ago (too many to count) I worked in a building in Houston that swayed easily in light winds. disconcerting to watch an office door sway back and forth like a pendulum

  • Tim Rogers

    No, I didn’t know that. But I do know that engineers sometimes make mistakes. And that’s what was running through my head yesterday when our building began to move.

  • Bob E. Ewing

    Next time you’re in New York, go look at the Citicorp building at ground level. It’s amazing. But, first, read this: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_eye/2014/04/17/the_citicorp_tower_design_flaw_that_could_have_wiped_out_the_skyscraper.html

  • lakewoodhobo

    Funny, we’re on the 27th floor a couple of blocks south and I didn’t feel anything like that. I felt the glass shaking and it freaked me out a little, but otherwise it was fine. When everyone got the tornado warning on their phones, it was a mad dash to the stairwell.

  • Dubious Brother

    I know that you were in a state of panic but I am not sure that an elevator is where I would want to be in a swaying building. Also, try to stay away from earthquake prone areas.

  • Kourtny Garrett

    The Downtown Dallas, Inc. world headquarters was rockin’ up here on 71 at Bank of America Plaza as well. And when the sirens began blaring, security ushered us into the interior stairwell. Speaking of the benefits of downtown’s tunnel system …

    For more fun (maybe?) Friday trivia, this from the building’s general manager: “Yes, it does [sway]. If it didn’t we would all be in big trouble! We also have a device that detects the amount of sway and sends an alarm to the elevators to slow to half speed. This ensures that the elevators do not do any damage to the shaft or cabling.” Yikes.

  • Michael Hassett

    It would have been a pleasure to die at my desk.

  • zaccrain

    On our way downstairs in a packed elevator — I know; we’re not bright — a woman had a small, very chill dog named Gucci. After someone commented on the over-crowded nature of the elevator — again, I know; not smart — one of the woman’s officemates said that, if we got stuck, in a few hours, “Gucci was going to be sushi.” Pretty decent line, though his delivery suggested that he had come up with earlier and was waiting for either the perfect time or a big enough audience to deliver it. Anyway, not bad, and it was helpful for that guy to identify himself as the “class clown” of his office, so I knew right away who to silence first, should we indeed be trapped together.

    But that dog was super chill — apparently, the thunder had bothered him a bit, but he certainly appeared to be less rattled by the weather than most, especially Tim — and I would like to hang out with Gucci in better circumstances. I doubt I will, but I’d like to. I doubt I’ll learn a really kick-ass martial art, but I’d like to. I’d like to do a lot of things. Bit of a dreamer over here.

    Also, since you guys are here, I’d like to note that Tim was definitely the first person I noticed who wanted to get the hell out of dodge, even before all of our phones buzzed with the tornado warning. But Tim was the least person to leave — I waited for him, because that’s the kind of friend/human I am — because he wanted to change into more weather-appropriate shoes. Though I have had the same impulse before, especially if I wore Jordans to work, without having properly checked the forecast, Tim was changing into shoes that he felt would keep his feet dry on the walk to his car, a notion which proved to be ridiculously inaccurate.

    Anyway, you guys have a good day.

  • zaccrain

    On our way downstairs in a packed elevator — I know; we’re not bright — a woman had a small, very chill dog named Gucci. After someone commented on the over-crowded nature of the elevator — again, I know; not smart — one of the woman’s officemates said that, if we got stuck, in a few hours, “Gucci was going to be sushi.” Pretty decent line, though his delivery suggested that he had come up with it earlier and was waiting for either the perfect time or a big enough audience to deliver it. Anyway, not bad, and it was helpful for that guy to identify himself as the “class clown” of his office, so I knew right away who to silence first, should we indeed be trapped together.

    But that dog was super chill — apparently, the thunder had bothered him a bit, but he certainly appeared to be less rattled by the weather than most, definitely less than Tim — and I would like to hang out with Gucci in better circumstances. I doubt I will, but I’d like to. I doubt I’ll learn a really kick-ass martial art, but I’d like to. I’d like to do a lot of things. Bit of a dreamer over here.

    Also, since you guys are here, I’d like to note that Tim was definitely the first person I noticed who wanted to get the hell out of dodge, even before all of our phones buzzed with the tornado warning. But Tim was the last person to leave — I waited for him, because that’s the kind of friend/human I am — because he wanted to change into more weather-appropriate shoes. Though I have had the same impulse before, usually if I wore Jordans to work, without having properly checked the forecast, Tim was changing into shoes that he felt would keep his feet dry on the walk to his car, a notion which proved to be ridiculously inaccurate.

    Anyway, you guys have a good day.

  • Tim Rogers

    It’s true. I was panicked and yet still concerned about the comfort of my feet and the preservation of my Adidas shell toes. Anyway, thanks for waiting for me, Zac. You’re a good human. I really feel like yesterday’s near-death experience brought us closer together.

  • James the P3

    I had the exact same experience at 1700 Pacific yesterday. I’ve worked in this building for seven years, and am used to a little bit of sway. But that was like a cruise ship–I had to take a step a couple of times to keep from falling. The worst part was the sound of the entire building creaking around me as window blinds slapped against the windows with each sway. I have no fear of heights, but that was really upsetting.

    As soon as the tornado warning came through, I ran to the elevator. Perhaps not smart, but at that moment my only thought was getting to the ground (and into the tunnels) as quickly as I could. And I knew an elevator would get me there a lot quicker than going down the stairs.