Offshore wind farms may have more benefit than generating renewable electricity. A new study finds wind turbines could blunt the force of hurricanes before the storms hit land, preventing damage to cities and homes as well as to the turbines themselves.
The research, published online this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, concludes that wind turbines could reduce hurricanes’ wind speeds by 56-92 mph and wave heights and the resulting storm surge flooding by 6 to 79 percent.
"The little turbines can fight back the beast," Cristina Archer, a co-author of the study and associate professor at the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, told CBS News.
Archer and Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, found in a previous study that there is more than enough wind to support energy needs worldwide and not affect the global climate.
Archer and Jacobson worked with Willet Kempton, Archer’s colleague at the University of Delaware, to simulate the effect wind turbines may have had during three hurricanes: Sandy and Isaac, which swept New York and New Orleans respectively in 2012, and Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005.
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They used computer models to calculate that wind farms off the coasts of New Orleans and New York would have reduced Katrina’s winds by 98 mph and Sandy’s by 87 mph. The wind turbines would have reduced storm surge by up to 34 percent for Sandy and 79 percent for Katrina.
The wind turbines would slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane, decreasing wave height that then reduces the movement of air toward the center of the hurricane. This would increase the central pressure, which slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates the storm faster, the study explains.
Although the wind farms could not completely dissipate a hurricane or prevent the storm from forming, they would prevent significant damage to coastal cities, which could save lives, and they generate electricity in both normal and hurricane-like conditions.
The paper, titled “Taming Hurricanes with Arrays of Offshore Wind Turbines,” will be published in print in March.