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Transmission Towers in the Wind https://www.tdworld.


The wind-induced response of structures has been a significant subject of

engineering research over the past 40 years. Tall, slender buildings,
chimneys, antenna towers, high-mast light standards, cantilevered signal
structures and, yes, even tall, slender transmission structures can be
subjected to wind-induced vibration that results in an excessive vibration

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response, potential fatigue damage and even collapse.

It has been more than 20 years since many state highway departments
experienced significant damage and collapse of tall, slender light standards
made of tall, tapered multisided thin-walled high-strength steel. This led to
a research effort at Lehigh University in 1998 for which report No. 98-03
was published, Fatigue-Related Wind Loads on Highway Support
Structures: Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems.

This stimulated more research efforts to understand the problem better

and lead to new design provisions. Stronger steels and lighter-weight
structures with low levels of damping have made consideration of vibration
and fatigue more important than ever in today’s environment.

These problems, along with challenges in popular welding methods, led to

more research efforts to develop design standards for cantilevered signal,
sign and high-mast light support structures. Researchers at Purdue
University developed design guidelines for National Cooperative Highway
Research Program project 10-74, captured in the 2011 report entitled
Development of Fatigue Loading and Design Methodology for High-Mast
Lighting Structures. This report led to guidelines found in present-day
design standards.

Today, engineers designing these types of structures in the highway

industry are accustomed to using the Standard Specifications for
Structural Supports for Highway Signs, Luminaires and Traffic Signals,
published by the American Association of State Highway and
Transportation Officials (AASHTO). This publication provides guidance to
designers and manufacturers for analysis methods in Chapter 4 and fatigue
resulting from wind-induced vibration in Chapter 11.

Current Design

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Designers and manufacturers in the transmission line industry can learn

from the lessons that came out of the highway industry. The fact is most
designers today of tall, tapered multisided thin-walled high-strength steel
transmission poles base their design on American Society of Civil
Engineers/Structural Engineering Institute (ASCE/SEI) standard 48,
Design of Steel Transmission Pole Structures, as published by ASCE. This
standard and its forerunner document, called ASCE Manual 72 Design of
Steel Transmission Pole Structures, contain valuable time-tested design
provisions developed over many years of successful applications in the

While problems with wind-induced vibration are well known in the

industry, no formal design provisions for vibration analysis and fatigue
design are contained in this standard. It is well known but little publicized
that some projects have experienced excessive vibration and fatigue
problems, resulting in costly field modifications, repair and extended

These problems were the subject of a panel discussion at the 46th Annual
Transmission and Substation Design and Operation Symposium held in
Dallas, Texas, on Sept. 11-13, 2013. The problems can be traced to changes
in the industry that have evolved over time, including lack of design
provisions for wind-induced vibration, newer high-strength steel
materials, manufacturing and welding practices, and assembly and
erection practices.

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Stronger steels and lighter weight structures can be subjected to wind-induced vibration.

New Research Studies

The good news is more experience has been gained in understanding the
problems and developing new guidelines for designers and fabricators.
Recent research at Purdue University, where full-scale fatigue tests were
conducted on a widely used industry-standard arm-to-pole connection
detail, has led to better understanding of design and welding issues that
will help to inform the industry and lead to better performance in the field.

Researchers at Purdue also performed finite element studies of alternate

connection details that will lead to more robust arm-to-pole connections
with enhanced fatigue resistance. New design guidelines, better
understanding of the site wind climate, careful detailing, stricter welding

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specifications and careful shop inspection all are key to improved

performance. In addition, new analysis methods, guidelines for avoiding
wind-induced vibration during the design stage and methods for field
retrofit with damping devices currently are being studied.

This year’s ASCE/SEI conference in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., will include a

session discussing the new research at Purdue as well as recent experience
and guidance from knowledgeable wind engineers, fatigue experts and
welding and inspection engineers who have been active in the industry for
many years.

Study work with standard arm-to-pole connections have led to better understanding of this critical element.

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ASCE/SEI Standard 48 plays an important part in the design of tall tapered thin-walled transmission poles.

Lab studies have shown that large-diameter thin-wall sections are more flexible than fully rigid moment connections.

Understanding the Problem

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Extensive field monitoring of tall, slender steel pole structures in the

highway industry and, more recently in the transmission line industry, has
provided great insight into the problem of wind-induced vibration.
Consideration of the following is key to a better understanding of the
problem and how to avoid it:

• Wind climate at the site must be considered, including wind speed

and direction during a typical annual period. It is well known wind-
induced vibration (vortex shedding) can occur in relatively low winds
speeds (12 mph to 30 mph) that produce many cycles of loading. Wind
speed, direction and frequency of occurrence are important parameters
that can dictate the risk of vibration.
• Flexibility of standard arm-to-pole connections and how to model the
connections in a structural analysis model also must be considered.
Typically, these connections in large-diameter, thin-walled cross-
sections are considerably more flexible than fully rigid moment
• Boundary conditions at the conductors and foundation should be
considered, especially axial stiffness of the conductors and soil-
structure foundation conditions.
• Mode shape and frequencies of the structure must be considered.
They are complex and contain many possible modes of vibrations. A
detailed vibration study can help to avoid wind-induced vibration
problems. Experience seems to indicate few transmission structures are
evaluated for mode shape and frequency in the design phase. This is
contrary to many other types of engineered structures subjected to wind
• Key vibration parameters should be considered, such as the Scruton
number, Strouhal number, Reynolds number and damping levels at
various modes of vibration. These characteristics are important in
determining the potential for vortex shedding of the arm, pole and
structural system overall.
• Welding details and practices that lead to fatigue problems from
wind-induced vibration should also be taken into consideration.

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• Recent and past research has shed light on these important

characteristics and how they affect performance, but more research is
needed to cover the wide variety (for example, wind climate, height,
member slenderness and boundary conditions) experienced in steel
pole transmission structures

The Way Forward

Just as the highway industry learned from wind-induced vibration in high-

mast lighting structures, so, too, can the transmission industry learn from
this new research and future research studies that can greatly reduce the
risk of fatigue problems at a reasonable cost. The hope is future design
specification provisions will be developed based on new and upcoming
research to guide designers and fabricators in developing more fatigue-
resistant designs with improved long-term performance.

Lawrence (Larry) Griffis, PE, is a senior consultant with Walter P Moore

and Associates Inc. He is past chairman and current member of the
American Society of Engineers (ASCE) Task Committee on Wind Loads,
which is responsible for developing the wind design provisions of ASCE 7
standard on Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings
and Other Structures referenced in most local and national building codes.

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