Engineering Structures 21 (1999) 1006–1014
Wind, terrain and structural damping characteristics under tropical
cyclone conditions
J. Shanmugasundaram
, P. Harikrishna, S. Gomathinayagam, N. Lakshmanan
Structural Engineering Research Centre, CSIR Campus, TTTI, Chennai 600 113, India
Received 12 September 1997; received in revised form 13 March 1998; accepted 16 March 1998
A large number of buildings and structures, including some well-engineered structures, have been reported to be damaged during
tropical cyclones. This stresses the need to study the various characteristics of tropical cyclone winds. A full-scale field experiment
on a 52 m tall steel lattice tower has been undertaken to study the wind, terrain and structural characteristics under normal and
tropical cyclone wind conditions. Data collected from the instrumented tower during tropical cyclones in June and December 1996
were analyzed and compared with the characteristics obtained during normal wind conditions. The measured wind and terrain
characteristics have been compared with the results reported in the literature. The measured structural characteristics, such as the
fundamental frequency and damping ratio of the structure, have been compared with the analytical values and those reported in
the literature. © 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Field measurements; Terrain characteristics; Tropical cyclone winds
1. Introduction
The annual average number of tropical cyclones
occurring all over the world is around 92. The Indian
ocean is one of the six major tropical cyclone prone
regions of the world. Every year, four to five tropical
cyclones occur in the Indian ocean, 80% of which cross
the east coast of India. The maximum wind speed during
such cyclones can be as high as 260 kmph (163 mph).
The characteristics of tropical cyclone winds are quite
different from those of well behaved normal winds.
At present, research on the effects of tropical cyclone
winds on buildings and other tower-like structures, and
mitigation of their effects is far less than required. This
is due to the complexities involved in assessing (i) the
intensity and the severity of wind speeds in tropical cyc-
lones, (ii) the strength of materials and types of materials
used, (iii) the quality and method of construction
adopted and (iv) the dynamic properties of the structure
and the wind. The safe and economical design of build-
ings and other structures against wind loading requires
knowledge on many inter-linked wind and structural
* Corresponding author.
0141-0296/99/$ - see front matter © 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S0141- 0296( 98) 00053- 4
characteristics, such as wind speed and direction, vari-
ation of wind speed with height, terrain roughness, tur-
bulence intensity, and the frequency and damping of the
structure. As already mentioned, since there are many
uncertainties involved in these areas, studies based on
theoretical models alone will not be sufficient to under-
stand the realistic nature of tropical cyclone wind forces
and to predict the behaviour of structures subjected to
them. The available full-scale field experimental data
obtained during cyclones is scarce. Realising the impor-
tance of the problem, the Structural Engineering
Research Centre, Chennai, India, situated about 3 km
away from the Bay of Bengal coast, has erected a 52 m
tall narrow-base steel lattice tower and instrumented it
with anemometers, accelerometers and strain gauges to
study the above mentioned problems. Normal and
extreme wind data from these sensors were collected
during different seasons of the year.
In this paper wind speeds and response data obtained
during tropical cyclones in June and December 1996 are
analyzed and discussed. The structural characteristics
evaluated from measurements are also discussed.
1007 J. Shanmugasundaram et al. / Engineering Structures 21 (1999) 1006–1014
2. Test structure
A 52 m tall narrow-base steel lattice tower on which
the measurements were made is surrounded by a few
scattered buildings of varying heights (two to five stories
of height varying from 6 to 15 m) within a distance of
1–3 km, on the northern, southern and western side of
the tower. The sea is 3 km away on the south eastern
side. From the visual observation, the terrain under study
may be described as between category 2 and 3, in terms
of the IS:875 (Part 3)—1987 [1] classification.
The tower is a four legged lattice steel structure made
of rolled steel galvanized angle sections and connected
with bolts. The total height of the tower above the
ground level is 52.1 m. The tower is square in plan with
a base width of 2.84 m and a top width of 1.8 m. The
configuration of the tower is shown in Fig. 1.
3. Instrumentation
In order to compute the wind, terrain and structural
characteristics, the tower was instrumented with anem-
ometers at four levels, 10 m, 16.4 m, 29.6 m and 51.6
m above ground level, with accelerometers in E & W
and N & S directions at 10 m and 51.6 m levels. The
anemometers were fixed at the free end of a 2 m long
boom assembly, which was bolted to the tower leg.
UVW (Gill) propeller type anemometers were used at
all levels, except at 29.6 m, where a sonic anemometer
was used. The accelerometers used were of piezo electric
type, manufactured by Vibrometer Corporation, USA
(Model C510M101) with capacity to measure the accel-
eration in the range of Ϯ 0.25 g.
All the sensors are connected to a computer through
shielded signal cables. Many sets of wind data were col-
lected during normal winds. Each record had a length of
15 min and a sampling rate of 20 Hz. The wind, terrain
and structural characteristics were evaluated for normal
winds from this data [2,3].
4. Collection of tropical cyclone wind data
Two severe tropical cyclones formed over the Bay of
Bengal and crossed the Indian coast during June 1996
and December 1996. The tracks are shown in Fig. 2.
Both the cyclones formed around longitude 86°E and
latitude 11°N. The June 1996 cyclone was originally
heading close to Chennai and then moved off in a north-
erly direction, finally crossing the coast near Vijayanaga-
ram (longitude 83.25°E and latitude 17.5°N). However
the December cyclone, after changing its track many
times as shown in Fig. 2, crossed the coast near Chennai
(longitude 80.25°E and latitude 12.6°N).
The wind speed components U, V, W in three orthog-
onal directions at four levels, acceleration in two perpen-
dicular directions at two levels, were collected during
both cyclones.
During June 1996, wind data was recorded between
11.00 a.m. on 13/6/1996 and 3.00 p.m. on 14/6/1996.
The maximum and 15 min mean wind speeds recorded
at the 52.1 m level were 24.08 m/s and 11.89 m/s,
respectively. During the period of measurement, the
wind direction changed from 310° to 250° with respect
to North.
During December 1996, wind data was recorded from
4.00 p.m. to 8.45 p.m. on 6/12/1996. The maximum and
15 min mean wind speeds recorded at the 52.1 m level
were 30.31 m/s and 16.76 m/s, respectively. The wind
direction during the measurement changed from 300°
(North west) during 4.00 to 6.00 p.m., to 0° (North) dur-
ing 6.00 to 6.30 p.m., and just after land fall to 76°
(North east) from 6.30 to 8.45 p.m. Fig. 3 shows the
mean, 3 s gust and maximum wind speed during each
15 min period for the two cyclones.
5. Wind and terrain characteristics
5.1. Power law coefficient
The characteristics of tropical cyclone winds are quite
different from normal winds. Every cyclone has its own
wind profile and turbulence characteristics. Fig. 4 shows
the variation of power law coefficient, ␣, with respect
to mean wind speed at 10 m height during normal and
tropical cyclone wind conditions. It can be seen that the
power law coefficient for tropical cyclone winds is more
than normal winds. The empirical equation (␣ ϭ 1/(ln
)), suggested by Ishizaki [4] to evaluate power law
coefficient for extreme wind, is also plotted in Fig. 4.
The observed values are much lower than those pre-
dicted by Ishizaki [4] for the recorded wind speeds, and
are around a constant value of [1/(ln 50)]. The power
law coefficient referenced to the wind velocity at 10 m
height as per the equation of Ishizaki is 0.26 for a wind
speed of 50 m/s, which is taken as the basic wind speed
in cyclone prone regions. Davenport [5] recommended
a power law coefficient of 0.28 for normal winds, for
terrain category 3. The values of ␣ obtained for this
particular site are close to open terrain condition (terrain
category 2) during normal winds, but the value is close
to semi-urban terrain condition (terrain category 3) dur-
ing tropical cyclone winds. Similar findings have been
recorded by others [6] and are embodied in the Aus-
tralian Wind Code [7].
5.2. Turbulence intensity
The turbulence intensity depends upon the surface
roughness, but the surface roughness is not the only fac-
1008 J. Shanmugasundaram et al. / Engineering Structures 21 (1999) 1006–1014
Fig. 1. Tower configuration with instrumentation.
tor to produce turbulence during tropical cyclones. Tur-
bulence is an inherent property of tropical cyclone winds
due to in-built convective fluid accelerations and the
coriolis effect due to earth’s rotation and gravitational
forces. Generally on any type of terrain, for normal
winds, the value of turbulence intensity decreases with
height. This trend was observed at the test site during
normal winds, but the profile of the turbulence intensity
was steeper during tropical cyclone wind conditions. Fig.
5 shows the recorded turbulence intensity as a function
of height for normal and tropical cyclone winds for the
test site along with Australian Code [7] values for differ-
ent terrain categories. It is to be noted that IS-875 (Part
3)—1987 [1] does not explicitly give the value of turbu-
lence intensity for different heights and for different ter-
rain categories. However, the Indian and Australian
Codes have used the same value of terrain roughness
length for different terrain categories.
It is seen from Fig. 5 that the values of turbulence
intensities for this test site are very close to the values
given for terrain category 3 during normal winds, but the
value tends to increase during tropical cyclone winds. It
can be seen that there is significantly higher turbulence
intensities all along the height under tropical cyclone
winds than under normal winds. The measured turbu-
lence intensities under tropical cyclone winds tend to
1009 J. Shanmugasundaram et al. / Engineering Structures 21 (1999) 1006–1014
Fig. 2. Tracks of June and December 1996 cyclones.
Fig. 3. Mean and maximum wind speed during cyclones.
shift from category 3 to category 4 terrains of the Aus-
tralian code. For the design of structures and structural
components which are wind sensitive, this implies that
higher fluctuating wind loads prevail over greater heights
in tropical cyclones than in normal winds. For the atmos-
pheric boundary layer, this is an indication of increased
shear layer thickness in the boundary layer wind.
The values of turbulence intensity at the 10 m level
during normal and extreme wind conditions are shown
in Fig. 6. Ishizaki [4] suggested k/(ln U
), as an empirical
expression to evaluate turbulence intensity, where k ϭ
0.4, 0.6 or 0.8. He suggested a value of 0.6 for the
design, to resist extreme wind, which is shown in Fig.
6. However, the measured turbulence intensity for these
two cyclones was always higher than the values sug-
gested by Ishizaki. Based on these experimental results,
it is suggested the expression of 0.8/(ln U
) to evaluate
turbulence intensity for tropical cyclone winds. This is
1010 J. Shanmugasundaram et al. / Engineering Structures 21 (1999) 1006–1014
Fig. 4. Variation of power law coefficient with mean wind speed.
Fig. 5. Variation of turbulence intensity along the height.
shown as an upper bound curve in Fig. 6. The measured
turbulence intensities in the lateral direction were
observed to be about 75% of the measured turbulence
intensities in the along wind direction. The measured tur-
bulence intensities in the vertical direction were
observed to have a wide scatter in the range of 35–60%
of the measured turbulence intensities in the along
wind direction.
5.3. Turbulence length scale
The turbulence length scales, which indicate the gust
size of wind in the direction of the wind, were evaluated
Fig. 6. Comparison of turbulence intensity values with literature
Fig. 7. Comparison of turbulence length scale values.
at different levels using Taylor’s hypothesis [8]. Fig. 7
shows the measured values of turbulence length scales
during normal and tropical cyclone winds, and compari-
son with the empirical expression given by ESDU [9].
It is seen from this figure that the turbulence length
scales in the direction of wind are found to be of the
same order during normal and extreme winds, and com-
parable with the suggested values of ESDU.
5.4. Exponential decay coefficient
The exponential decay coefficient, C
, is considered
to be independent of surface roughness in practice, but
1011 J. Shanmugasundaram et al. / Engineering Structures 21 (1999) 1006–1014
generally this value is higher for rough surface con-
ditions than for smooth surface. The Indian code on wind
loading recommends a value of 12 for C
. This value is
assumed to be constant irrespective of the type of terrain
and wind speed. From the experimental results, the C
values were evaluated from the cross spectral values
using an exponential fit. It is found that the average value
of C
is 7.5 for mean wind speed of 13.5 m/s, 6.31 for
mean wind speed of 10.22 m/s and 4.1 for mean wind
speed of 7.36 m/s at 51.6 m level.
Fig. 8 shows the C
values for all the measured data
during normal and tropical cyclone wind conditions.
From this figure it is found that the value of C
with increase in mean wind speed [10,11]. The best-fit
value for C
can be taken as [3.4*ln(V
) ϩ 0.3] for
structures lying in the test site type of terrain.
5.5. Wind speed spectra
Fig. 9(a) and (b) show the plot of non-dimensional
power spectral densities for the June and December 1996
cyclones. The spectral plot for the December 1996 cyc-
lone from measured data at 29.6 m height matches very
well with the Davenport spectrum. The spectrum of the
June 1996 cyclone contains significant energy in the high
frequency range. Assuming that the total variance can
be written as

ϭ ␴
ϩ ␴
where ␴
ϭ total variance during June cyclone, ␴
variance for normal conditions, and ␴
ϭ additional
high frequency turbulence; the value of ␴
works out to
(0.13 U
), which matches very well with the square root
of area under the spectral plot in the high frequency
Fig. 8. Variation of C
values with mean wind speed.
region. A number of factors, including geographical fea-
tures, meteorological parameters, and sudden change in
the direction of the tropical cyclone track observed,
could have contributed to the observed high frequencies.
In earlier investigations where attempts had been made
to measure the tropical cyclone wind characteristics, the
instrument response (sensitivity and sampling speed of
the measuring instruments)/response time (time con-
stants in the case of anemometers and sampling rates)
were limiting factors [12]. In the present investigation
the ultrasonic three dimensional anemometer is capable
of measuring digital data at 21 Hz, and this possibly
explains the tail end high frequency region obtained in
the spectral plot. Since Fig. 9(a) shows a flat section just
below the Nyquist frequency ( ϭ 10 Hz), it is possible
that there is significant energy beyond 10 Hz also, and
a certain level of ‘aliasing’ is not ruled out. Possibly, in
future experiments it may be necessary to find ways and
means of improving the sampling rate even beyond 21
Hz, as was done in this experiment.
The power spectral densities given by Davenport, data
measured by Tamura et al. [12] during Typhoon Mire-
ille, and June 1996 cyclone data presented by the
authors, are compared in Fig. 9(c). The deviation from
Davenport’s spectrum for both the cyclones are apparent.
While increase in spectral energy was observed for
values (nL
) in the range of 1.0 and 10.0 in the case
study presented by Tamura et al. [12], the spectral den-
sity in the case under discussion, namely June 1996 cyc-
lone, is higher between 10.0 and 100.0. These obser-
vations make it very clear that more attention is needed
to obtain tropical cyclone wind data based on field
measurements so that analytical expressions can be
developed. It is also interesting to note that the energy
level is nearly constant for values of (nL
) between
10.0 and 100.0, with the parameter (n S(n)/variance)
being constant at 0.025. This has significant implication
in structural design. The nearly constant trend seen in
the tail end of the spectrum (possibly including aliasing
effects) might decay beyond 10 Hz, but the measured
data was limited to 10 Hz. This is governed by the sam-
pling rate of 20 Hz. Many of the codes of practice nor-
mally recommend dynamic analysis for structures having
natural frequency less than 1.0 Hz. This roughly matches
with (nL
) values of around 10. As the energy in the
high frequency range where (nL
) is between 10 and
100 remains nearly constant during June 1996 cyclone,
even structures which were hitherto considered as rigid
become dynamically sensitive. In fact it has been hard
to explain some of the failures of microwave towers
[13,14] and transmission towers during tropical cyclones
as the wind speeds observed were far lower than those
that may lead to the collapse of these towers. In addition,
local transverse panel resonance is a distinct possibility
leading to progressive collapse of the structure. Hence,
for suitable design procedures, the spectrum of turbu-
1012 J. Shanmugasundaram et al. / Engineering Structures 21 (1999) 1006–1014
Fig. 9. Power spectra of wind speed. (a) June 1996 cyclone (including possible aliasing). (b) December 1996 cyclone. (c) Comparison with litera-
lence needs modification. This can only be done based
on field studies. Even low rise industrial structures
whose natural frequency often lie in the range of 3–6
Hz have been observed to be damaged under tropical
cyclone winds [15,16]. This could be one of the reasons
why sheeting on industrial roofs fail in fatigue [17,18]
due to high stress range with lower number of cycles at
local resonant vibrations. This, however, needs further
6. Structural characteristics
6.1. Fundamental frequency
From the auto-spectral values of the measured acceler-
ations of the structure, the dominant peak has been ident-
ified, which is the natural frequency of the structure. The
acceleration spectrum for a typical run is shown in Fig.
10. The average value of the measured fundamental fre-
1013 J. Shanmugasundaram et al. / Engineering Structures 21 (1999) 1006–1014
Fig. 10. Acceleration spectrum.
quency is 1.17 Hz. The theoretically evaluated natural
frequencies of the lattice tower using three dimensional
modelling of the structure were 1.18, 5.03, 6.0 and 9.04
Hz. The fundamental natural frequency of 1.18 Hz
agrees very well with the measured value of 1.17 Hz.
The measured auto spectrum had significant contribution
at higher modes as well, under cyclone winds even upto
10 Hz, clearly indicating presence of significant energy
in cyclone wind spectrum between 1 Hz and 10 Hz.
White band noise or aliasing effect in the wind spectrum
cannot lead to the structural response shown in Fig. 10.
This further strengthens the presence of significant
energy in turbulent cyclone wind even beyond 1 Hz. The
figure also shows a local mode vibration at 9.3 Hz,
which is due to flapping of the anemometer support
assembly, where the accelerometer was mounted.
6.2. Damping ratio
The damping ratio of the structure in the fundamental
mode was evaluated at different wind speeds. In the
present study, since the acceleration response spectrum
was found to be narrow banded at the fundamental fre-
quency of the structure, the half power method was used
to evaluate the damping ratio. The average value of the
damping ratio was found to be 1.60% during normal
winds. This value increased to 1.72% during the June
1996 cyclone and to 2.55% during the December 1996
cyclone. The increase in mean wind speed increases the
overall damping ratio due to the increase in aerodynamic
damping [19] and modal damping. Fig. 11 shows that
recorded values of damping ratio with mean wind speed,
had a wide scatter, possibly due to directional fluctu-
Fig. 11. Variation of damping ratio with mean wind speed.
7. Conclusions
The measured wind, terrain and structural character-
istics during tropical cyclone winds, presented in this
paper have significance for the design of structures in
tropical cyclone prone regions. The results of this paper
are summarised as follows:
1. The measured power law coefficients are found to be
higher than normal winds during tropical cyclone
wind conditions, leading to a pseudo rougher terrain
at the given site.
2. The power law coefficient during normal and tropical
cyclone winds decreases with increase in mean
wind speed.
3. A decrease in turbulence intensity with increase in
height was also observed. However the turbulence
intensity is found to be higher for tropical cyclone
winds than normal winds, particularly at lower levels,
resulting in a steeper slope of the turbulence intensity
profile. This means that the risk of fatigue failure is
increased in tropical cyclone winds.
4. The empirical expression suggested by Ishizaki to
evaluate turbulence intensity should be modified to
0.8/(ln U
5. The turbulence length scales in the direction of wind
is found to be of the same order during normal and
tropical cyclone wind conditions and is comparable
with the values suggested in ESDU.
6. The value of C
was found to increase with increase
in wind speed at low wind speeds as against the con-
stant value given by the IS Code, which is much
higher than the measured values.
7. A study of the power spectral density of tropical cyc-
lone winds indicates that gust energy is available at
1014 J. Shanmugasundaram et al. / Engineering Structures 21 (1999) 1006–1014
high frequencies beyond 1 Hz. The damage to many
of the well designed lattice towers during cyclones
may be explained by the above observation. It is
essential to develop a modified spectrum of tropical
cyclone winds for purposes of design based on
field experiments.
8. The measured fundamental frequency values are very
close to the theoretically evaluated value. Under trop-
ical cyclone winds, participation of higher modes in
the acceleration response of the structure is observed,
while only fundamental mode was dominant under
normal wind conditions.
9. The damping ratio was found to increase with
increase in wind speed.
The authors acknowledge, with gratitude, the encour-
agement and permission granted by the Director, Struc-
tural Engineering Research Centre, Chennai, for the pub-
lication of this paper. The authors would also like to
thank their colleagues, Mr M. Arumugam, Mr G. Balasu-
bramani, and Mr K. Sankaranarayanan for all their help
in collection and analyses of data.
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