August 28th, 2007

Wind Tunnel

Posted in digressions, LIC Gnomon, tour by Heidi


Published: February 6, 1994, The New York Times

Citicorp’s tower, an impressive skyscraper, sometimes sweeps people off their feet — literally. Powerful winds sporadically swirling around it actually lift unwary pedestrians off the ground, neighbors say.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but people get blown into midair,” said Susan P. Chetwin, general manager of the Muzak office across the street on Jackson Avenue. Her workers regularly use the tower for its Citibank branch and basement subway stop.

Jean McIntyre, describing a daily bank errand for Muzak, said, “the wind picked me up completely off the sidewalk — this is no exaggeration — and I was just flying through the air.” She was lifted several inches off the ground and flung about 20 feet away, she estimates.

“It felt like I was going 30 miles an hour. I was headed for a glass window, so I managed to throw myself to the ground to prevent that. I hurt my shoulder, hip and head. I was dazed for a while. I could have been killed there.”

Just what is causing the turbulence is unclear. A Citicorp spokesman said, however, that the company took precautions recently by temporarily closing one entrance, posting warnings and putting up a rope railing; further measures are being studied.

Speaking without specific knowledge of the Citicorp situation, experts noted that wind striking skyscrapers can create strong drafts. Irwin G. Cantor, a structural engineer specializing in tall buildings, said that scientists can make a model of a building and its surroundings, then measure air flow in a wind tunnel “to learn where the hot spots are.” Installing planters or trees might help buffer the wind, he said.

Writing to Citicorp on Jan. 4 about turbulence that day, Ms. Chetwin said three workers were swept off their feet, including one who “was blown into a pole and slightly injured and has gone home for the day.” An earlier letter described a woman being hurled beneath a standing car.

Citicorp should erect a covered walkway or handrail, she wrote the company. Citicorp wrote back that the matter was being reviewed.

Although Muzak’s office is only a few hundred feet from the tower, on windy days its staff often ferries people back and forth by car. “Maybe if I had fatter employees,” Ms. Chetwin said, “this wouldn’t be such a problem.” B.L.

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