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Can Offshore Wind Farms Protect Us From Hurricanes?

Can Offshore Wind Farms Protect Us From Hurricanes?

The interactions between global warming and tropical cyclones, such as Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan, are complex at best. While we can’t say that climate change is causing these devastating storms, we do know that it’s making them stronger.

As one of many species that would rather not see its home washed away by a massive tropical cyclone, this knowledge leads to more questions than answers for human kind. In a world where precious few seem to be willing to move away from climate changing fossil fuels, what can humanity do to protect itself from these storms, which are likely to become more frequent and violent?

New research suggests that offshore wind farms could be an unlikely solution to this terrifying problem. A study out of Stanford University found compelling evidence that these ocean-based power plants could be able to siphon power away from topical cyclones, possibly preventing billions of dollars in damages.

For the past 24 years, Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson has been perfecting a complex computer model to study air pollution, energy, weather and climate. The tragic destruction of hurricanes Sandy and Isaac, which struck New York and New Orleans, respectively, in 2012, and Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, got Jacobson thinking about what his sophisticated model could teach us about reducing the destructive power of future storms. In a time when many countries are planning significant offshore wind development, Jacobson wondered if the new ocean power plants would impact the storm or just get destroyed.

He entered details about weather and climate conditions from the three previously mentioned storms into his modeling system, and the results were quite surprising.

“We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane,” Jacobson told Stanford News. “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.”

That’s right folks, in addition to being a far safer way to extract energy from the ocean (I’m looking at you offshore oil drilling industry), offshore wind farms could actually protect coastal areas from tropical storms.

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 percent.

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 percent decrease in storm surge.

Of all the arguments in favor of wind power development I’ve ever read, those three statements are some of the most compelling. Think about all the lives, animals, buildings and natural habitats that could have been saved if were as eager to install wind farms as we are to consume fossil fuels (the same fuels that are feeding these storms in the first place)?

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12:14PM PDT on Mar 16, 2014

Hmmm. When I was looking into adding a wind turbine to the property, and told them that we regularly had winds in excess of 40 mph and tornadoes, they politely advised me NOT to do it, because the turbine would be damaged too often, and no insurance would cover that sort of damage. Don't think that a man-made object can stop a 200 mph 50 mile wide nature occurrence, sorry.

9:36PM PDT on Mar 14, 2014

I did not think that the turbines would hold up well against extreme winds but I had no recent facts on the subject; just info from turbines in the past. Thanks John S. for the verification of some of my thoughts. But any way around it, Fracking is not the "clean and safe" way to go as David F is stating. Many facts have been shown to prove the dangers of fracking. Burning water, earthquakes, water contamination... We have to do better.

5:45AM PDT on Mar 12, 2014

John s.,
Thank you for your in depth analysis. Too many articles seem to be copycat reprints, without checking the source.

3:22AM PDT on Mar 12, 2014

First, turbines are shut down during winds over 45 miles per hour. 2nd, If wind speeds get too high, they can threaten the physical integrity of the turbine. 3rd, if the turbine blade loses its carbon composite skin a the fire starts. Also structural failure causing turbine damage or tower collapse. Blade fragments have been reported to travel up to one mile, and blades have been witnessed throwing off chunks of ice up to distances of 460 feet. Other studies indicate that oOffshore hurricanes could demolish half the turbines in proposed wind farms.

Other studies indicate that damage could be greatly reduced by building the farms in lower-risk areas and boosting the abilities of turbines to withstand higher winds.

And we haven't even gotten to the safety record of the industry. So many deaths for so little power.

Like it or not, we have to do better, and accepting the status qua may not be the best answer.

8:51PM PDT on Mar 11, 2014

Thank you

11:44AM PDT on Mar 10, 2014

Interesting. Thanks.

5:21AM PDT on Mar 10, 2014

Thanks for sharing!

7:23PM PDT on Mar 9, 2014

Thank you

2:03PM PDT on Mar 9, 2014

Silly me, I would have thought that hurricane force winds would tear up the windmills.

Thus adding to the damage totals.

11:03AM PDT on Mar 9, 2014

Thank you.

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