The Triangle’s cranes will be set to spin with the wind as Florence makes land

The crane over the FNB Tower project on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.
The crane over the FNB Tower project on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh.

As Hurricane Florence approaches, bringing high winds and heavy rain, the region’s prominent cranes are going into “weathervane” mode.

That is crane speak for releasing the brakes on the towering structures to allow them to spin freely in the wind, like a weathervane would. A counterweight system within the crane’s towers also keeps them from rocking back and forth.

Dennis Kenna, president of Heede Southeast, a Charlotte area company that operates cranes throughout the Southeast, said that his company is confident its cranes in the area can withstand the forecasted tropical-strength wind.

As Florida Gov Rick Scott warned of a life-threatening storm surge headed for the Florida Keys, the Miami area was beginning to feel the effects of the approaching Hurricane Irma late on September 9. This footage, shot in Hollywood, to the north o

Kenna said its cranes are able to handle sustained Category 3 winds (111 mph to 129 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center) and winds of around 60 mph are forecast for the Triangle once the storm makes its way inland. The latest forecast from the National Weather Service shows Raleigh getting wind speeds somewhere between 39 mph to 73 mph.

Kenna also proudly noted that Hurricane Hugo, a strong storm that hit North Carolina in 1989, didn’t down any of his company’s cranes.

“Though we are still praying and hoping for the best,” he said.

Heede — which has cranes in downtown Durham and at Duke University — sent out an “emergency preparedness” memo to its customers this week, asking operators to disconnect all power to their cranes, to pump out water from crane foundations as soon as possible and remove all loose items like banners from the machines.

Time-lapse video of a NOAA Hurricane Hunter flight into Hurricane Florence on Sept. 10, 2018.

With the Triangle undergoing a building boom, there are several cranes dotting the region’s skyline — though many have come down in recent months, as buildings have gotten closer to completion. Projects in Raleigh like the 22-story FNB Tower and the Peace project on the northern edge of downtown still have cranes.

Scott Mabry, assistant deputy commissioner, of the North Carolina Occupational Safety and Health Division, said the longstanding crane on Hillsborough Street offers a good example of what you will see from the area’s cranes during the storm.

The Hillsborough Street crane has sat unlocked and inactive for years because of a stalled apartment project.

“You don’t want them to grab the wind because it will put the stress on the structure itself,” he said. “The one on Hillsborough Street has been there for a long time, and every time you go over there, it is pointing in a different direction” because it is following the wind.

Mabry noted that it’s up to the crane installers to follow the crane manufacturers guidelines, which depend on the height and size of every crane.

Katie Dombrowski, a spokeswoman for Raleigh’s Development Services Department, said the city is sending inspectors to all of the crane sites in the city to make sure they are prepared for the storm.

She said there are currently five cranes up in Raleigh. The are located on: Hillsborough Street, Wade Avenue, Peace and West streets and Fayetteville Street.

Brett Relick, a project manager for Choate Construction Co., which is building FNB Tower, said in an email that its crane is “engineered to withstand winds well in excess of the current wind speed projections.”

On Wednesday, Raleigh’s Development Services Department sent out a guideline for developers to follow for Hurricane Florence.

The city said that to keep job sites as safe as possible during the storm:

All job sites must be secured and free of debris that may be vulnerable to high winds or flooding

All equipment, scaffolding, lifts and cranes must be secured.

All street potholes need to be filled in with temporary asphalt, no stones.

All open pits needs to be filled in or secured.

All sidewalk closures need to be safe and secure and should be re-opened if possible.

All non-permanent lane closures must be removed to accommodate emergency vehicles.

NC Governor Roy Cooper tells North Carolinians on the coast to evacuate now in adavnce of Hurricane Florence during a Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018 briefiing.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

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