Taming Hurricanes

Science Scope, April-May 2014 | Go to article overview

Taming Hurricanes


Wind turbines placed in the ocean to generate electricity may have another major benefit: weakening hurricanes before the storms make landfall.

New research shows that an army of offshore wind turbines could reduce hurricanes' wind speeds, wave heights, and flood-causing storm surges. The findings demonstrate for the first time that wind turbines can buffer damage to coastal cities during hurricanes.

A previous study had calculated the global potential for wind power, taking into account that as turbines generate electricity, they also siphon off some energy from the atmosphere. This study found that there is more than enough wind to support worldwide energy demands with a negligible effect on the overall climate.

In the new study, the researchers took a closer look at how the turbines' wind extraction might affect hurricanes. Unlike normal weather patterns that make up global climate over the long term, hurricanes are unusual, isolated events that behave very differently. Thus the scientists hypothesized that a hurricane might be more affected by wind turbines than are normal winds.

Using their sophisticated climate-weather model, the researchers simulated hurricanes Katrina, Isaac, and Sandy to examine what would happen if large wind farms, with tens of thousands of turbines, had been in the storms' paths.

They found that, as the hurricane approached, the wind farm would remove energy from the storm's edge and slow down the fast-moving winds. The lower wind speeds at the hurricane's perimeter would gradually trickle inward toward the eye of the storm. 'There is a feedback into the hurricane that is really fascinating to examine," says Cristina Archer, a member of the research team. …

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