Billboard Mastery Podcast: Episode 70

Signs And Storms

High winds and billboards have never been good friends. And as weather events seem to be escalating in the U.S. it’s important that you understand what happens to signs in high-wind events. In this Billboard Mastery podcast we’re going to review the topic of signs and wind damage and how to mitigate those results.

Episode 70: Signs And Storms Transcript

Storms and signs has never been a very good combination. This is Frank Rolfe with The Billboard Mastery Podcast. We're gonna be talking all about what happens with billboards when they meet weather events. So let's first go over some of the weather events that don't typically harm billboards. You don't often see billboards impacted by fires. Now, I know in California, that's probably not true, but through most of America, you rarely see fires and signs, probably because those big forests normally don't allow billboards to be built along the roads in the forest anyway. And billboards are very tolerant of floods. The flood water can go up on the billboard, it really doesn't impact unless it sits there for a long period of time, in which case it can rust out the metal pole or rot the wooden pole.

So we don't see a lot of flooding is an issue. So then what do we see and is typically one word, wind, because wind and signs has never gotten along very well. Now, most billboards are constructed to handle a pretty big wind load, so as far as how much wind that the sign can take, it's actually quite a bit, up to 100 miles an hour and more, in some areas based on how it's engineered. It's sort of the vital parts of the engineering print of the billboard is, how many pounds per square inch of wind it can handle, which is basically all revolving around wind load. Is there anything you can do to help the sign out in the event of high winds? Yes, there are a few things you can do.

Now, if you look at a mono pole sign and you say, "Where is most of the force on that mono pole? Where is most of that power energy derived on that sign when you put a lot of wind on it?" It's an area just above the ground, it's probably about three feet off the ground. If you took a pencil and you snap that pencil, if you put that pencil in a vise and you push on it, that's where the pencil breaks, because the top part of that pencil acts as a lever, and it puts all the force down there near where you've clamped it into the vise, although the area clamped into the vise, it's a little bit above that before that's where the pressure really affects it and then it snaps.

So what some people have done in the past to help billboard survive weather events, is they weld what's called channel onto the sign. It basically is just a piece of angle iron, and what it is, is it reinforces that danger section, a little bit above the ground. If you ever see a sign, there's a whole bunch of little strips of metal welded, a little bit off the ground. You might say, "Why is that?" Well, that's someone who has welded a channel on to help the resiliency, the strength of the sign so it wouldn't possibly snap.

Now, another thing you can do on a wooden sign is called bracing. So on a brace sign what you do is you have your line of telephone poles that make up the billboard, and then you put in a few telephone poles that are shorter also in line behind it. And then you put 2 × 4s that actually connect the shorter poles to the bigger poles, so when you put wind load on the sign, the force is transferred from those big poles over to the small poles to give it extra support. You can also put in guy-wires, these are metal wires that also attach to the poles, although sometimes you'll see them attached directly to the top of the sign to again give added support in the event of a big wind. If you had a big wind and the wind is blowing on that sign face, those guy-wires would help to keep it vertical.

So the meta force that meta pressure on the sign is greatly reduced. Now, what happens when you overload a billboard, what practically happens? Well, on a mono pole, theoretically, it would come crashing down, it would break at the ground, but they never break at the ground. Normally what happens is they can bend, but what I've seen more normally is damage to the foundation itself. They can actually force the foundation to lean over, or in some cases, the sign can break loose in the foundation actually spin in the ground to equalize the amount of pressure, almost like a weather vane.

I've never actually had a still sign that came crashing down. I've had it come close. I had one in a tornado once that bent over at an angle, but it never hit the ground. The bigger item that happens when a sign gets hit by a wind, is it loses the advertisement. There now back in the old days, we used big old heavy wooden panels, those wooden panels would detach and come flying off. Today, of course, the sign is not nearly as heavy, typically the panels are made of metal, and then you've got vinyl wrapped around it, and the vinyl tends to help hold those panels on the sign.

Now, the panels are actually engineered in the event of a suction motion like a tornado, that they will detach from the sign that saves the structure from coming down and only the panels fall. You also have situations when the wind blows hard where the vinyl itself can get ripped and the vinyl itself can detach or a portion can detach from the panels, and your ad is still ruined, but you had no physical damage on the ground.

Now, what are the things you need to know as a good operator about wind. Well, number one, you need to make sure you have all the right insurance, that's for sure. You want to have plenty of insurance to cover whatever a sign might hit as any portion of it comes tumbling down, even a mere 2 × 4 drop from a distance of 50 feet in the air added on to 100 miles an hour of wind can cause some degree of damage. So you have to make sure you have the right insurance. You also wanna make sure that in the event of a storm being announced on the Weather Channel or anywhere, that you check your sign to make sure your sign is fine.

Now the worst thing that you can do is have a sign that's impacted in a storm and there's no property damage and no one is injured, but your own self-esteem will be when you don't know that your ad is ruined and the advertiser doesn't catch it, and a month later they drive by and there is your advertisement for the taco den, and it's gone, or half of it is gone, and then they get mad, and say, "You've been charging me for a sign that is damaged," so you need to have some methodology to check on your sign in the event of a storm.

Now, a smart way to do that often is to just solicit a business near your sign, who can maybe see out its windows, who can tell you if they see any damage. So if you had a big storm, you'd call up maybe the Fina station down the street and say, "Hey, Mr. Fina overnight guy, can you look out the window and see if you see my sign or if my sign is okay?" And they can look at it and say, "Yeah, I see it. Sign's fine." And that takes a lot of peace of mind for you, it saves you a lot of gasoline time and cost.

The bottom line is that even though signs and high winds don't get along well together, it's not really been a terrible relationship over the years, it's very, very rare to have a problem. Of the 300 billboards that I had, I only ever had probably no more than four that ever had any impact from any kind of storm, and that was done in Texas where it's known to have a lot of tornados and hail and other big weather kind of events. But be smart, if you see that there is a storm anywhere near your sign, monitor it, check on it, make sure things are okay. If they're not get it fixed rapidly. There's no reason you can't have a happy life even though winds blow occasionally.

This is Frank Rolfe. The Billboard Mastery Podcast. I hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again, soon.