Rain barrels are just one way to prepare yourself and your home for New Orleans’ wet season. One question we’ve encountered from time to time while installing rain barrels is what to do in the event of a hurricane. Should the barrel remain in place, as it will weigh about 400 lbs. when filled with water? Or should it be detached from the downspout and brought indoors so it does not become a projectile, carried away by heavy winds? We decided to speak to a Tulane physics professor and a NASA engineer (seriously) about how fast winds would have to be moving in order to tip over a full rain barrel.
When filled with water, a Green Light New Orleans rain barrel weighs between 380 and 420 pounds. In order to move a 400-lb. object, one would need 400 lbs. of force…but we’ll spare you from the physics lesson.
Our NASA friend calculated that in order to move a 400-lb. barrel (that is, to create even a slight, negligible movement) the wind speed would have to be 90 MPH. In order to tip over a full rain barrel weighing 400 lbs., wind speeds would have to be closer to 144 MPH.
Keep in mind that that calculation assumes the barrel will be exposed directly to 144 MPH winds. Those wind speeds are consistent with Category 4 hurricanes. Because rain barrels are typically placed on the side of a house or on a patio, they are rarely if ever going to be directly exposed to 144 MPH winds. And that is only enough force to tip the barrel over. In order to turn the barrel into an airborne projectile the wind speeds would need to be much, much faster.
So what should you do with your rain barrel during a hurricane?
Your barrel is probably going to be safe during a heavy rain storm and even a Category 3 or 4 hurricane. That being said, if you feel most comfortable removing your barrel and bringing it inside before the heavy rains and wind start up, feel free to do so.
It should also be noted, these calculations were made assuming the barrel was full. An empty rain barrel will obviously be much more prone to movement than a full one.