Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina decimated coastal areas of the United States, resulting in many deaths and billions of dollars in damage. Hurricanes are a force of nature that we can't stop, but we may be able to tone them down a little bit if we throw enough wind farms in their way.
Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson developed an advanced computer model to study the way hurricanes work, simulating how they develop and move inland. With this model, he also looked at how offshore wind turbines, used for generating energy from the wind, would affect a hurricane. Modern turbines are surprisingly sturdy: they can withstand wind speeds of over 100 mph, which generally comes with hurricanes that fall into the 2 or 3 category. So Jacobson wondered what would happen if a large farm of these turbines came into contact with a hurricane. Could the wind turbines lessen the effects of a large storm?
After simulating three hurricanes — Isaac, Sandy, and Katrina — the model’s results were astonishing. Not only would the wind farm slow down the hurricane, resulting in less wind and smaller waves, but it could diminish the storm’s surge by nearly 79 percent. If turbines were present around New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina, much of the flooding seen with that storm might not have even occurred. Jacobson said:
“We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane. This feeds back to decreased wave height, which reduces movement of air toward the center of the hurricane, increasing the central pressure, which in turn slows down the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster.”
Of course, this model requires an absolutely massive wind farm, with over 70,000 (!) turbines. However, such a wind farm would have a dual purpose: it wouldn’t just lessen hurricanes, but it would also generate energy for electricity. Considering that, the cost of building something so large might actually make it cost-effective. It’s also less expensive and more efficient than other alternatives, like building large seawalls around coastal areas.