Clean Power

Published on February 28th, 2014 | by James Ayre


Offshore Wind Farms Hold Potential To Weaken Hurricanes, Research Finds

February 28th, 2014 by  

Large offshore wind farms — ones possessing thousands of wind turbines — hold the potential to notably diminish the power of large hurricanes, according to new research from Stanford University and the University of Delaware.

In particular, the research found that such wind farms could have limited the power of three recent real-life hurricanes (Sandy, Isaac, and Katrina), both decreasing their wind speeds and limiting the accompanying storm surge. These are factors which would have greatly lessened the billions of dollars in damages that the storms all caused.

New research shows that an offshore wind farm could have weakened Hurricane Sandy, shown here on Oct. 28, 2012. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided by Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS).

New research shows that an offshore wind farm could have weakened Hurricane Sandy, shown here on Oct. 28, 2012.
Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided by Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS).

The findings were the result of computer simulations by Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford — one who has spent the last 24 years using computer modeling to study climate, weather, air pollution, and energy. Recently, his work has turned to the simulation of hurricane development, and also to the investigation of wind turbine energy extraction potential.

This new work bridges those two subjects — what would happen if a hurricane encountered a large array of offshore wind turbines? That question entered Jacobson’s mind while performing earlier research, and led to this new research. Would the energy extraction due to the storm spinning the turbines’ blades slow the winds and diminish the hurricane, or would the hurricane destroy the turbines?

What he found was that wind turbines “could disrupt a hurricane enough to reduce peak wind speeds by up to 92 mph and decrease storm surge by up to 79%.”

“We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane,” Jacobson explained. “This feeds back to decrease wave height, which reduces movement of air toward the center of the hurricane, increasing the central pressure, which in turn slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster.”

Stanford University provides more info:

In the case of Katrina, Jacobson’s model revealed that an array of 78,000 wind turbines off the coast of New Orleans would have significantly weakened the hurricane well before it made landfall.

In the computer model, by the time Hurricane Katrina reached land, its simulated wind speeds had decreased by 36-44 meters per second (between 80 and 98 mph) and the storm surge had decreased by up to 79%. For Hurricane Sandy, the model projected a wind speed reduction by 35-39 meters per second (between 78 and 87 mph) and as much as 34% decrease in storm surge.

Jacobson acknowledges that, in the United States, there has been political resistance to installing a few hundred offshore wind turbines, let alone tens of thousands. But he thinks there are two financial incentives that could motivate such a change.

Those two financial incentives are, of course, the reduction of hurricane damage costs (Hurricane Sandy caused $82 billion in damages), and the simple fact that wind farms pay for themselves in the long-term — especially when you factor in the health and climate-related costs of fossil fuel power.

“The turbines will also reduce damage if a hurricane comes through,” Jacobson stated. “These factors, each on their own, reduce the cost to society of offshore turbines and should be sufficient to motivate their development.”

The new research was just published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • losconinhum

    If the storm does not destroy the turbines first. I would guess they would have to be built extra strong and sturdy.

  • Banned by Bob

    I guess this is interesting. Only 78,000 wind turbines off of the coast of New Orleans? So to protect the US from Corpus Christi to NYC! how many of these would we need? A few million? And the cost of that would be?

    • They would also generate a *lot* of electricity!

    • Matt

      78k turbine off the cost of New Orleans. Didn’t say if they assumed 3,5,7 or 8MW turbines, but that would be 234-624 GWs. Note that the world’s largest off shore wind farm, phase I of London array has “only” 175 3.6MW turbines. So we are a long way from the level of impact they studied.

  • Kyle Field

    That actually makes sense to my pea brain. Take the energy from the wind (albeit, hurricane force winds) and create energy from it – thus diminishing the power of the storm. interesting…though I’m not certain it would have a significant effect. This also poses an interesting question about how adding 1 million turbines globally would affect weather patterns etc. we are taking energy…it’s coming from somewhere…there has to be an offset somewhere (I would think…again, just my little pea brain)

    • Ronald Brakels

      Well, we know hurricanes decrease in force significantly when they move over land, so I presume the presence of wind turbines makes the ocean more land like from the hurricane’s point of view.

      • Dan Hue

        Good point. I was wondering if that was a good thing, everything considered (i.e. taking into account indirect consequences), but you are right that hurricanes “fall apart” once they reach land anyway.

    • Bob_Wallace

      There would be some change in weather patterns. Probably not as much change as we create as we build cities.

      I read somewhere recently that we have 4 million telephone poles in the US. They probably change weather patterns as well.

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