Shutterstock.com

Tens of thousands of wind turbines could dampen monster hurricanes into plain old bad storms, claim researchers.

Over the years, weather eggheads have dreamed up an arsenal of unusual weapons to fight hurricanes – seeding clouds to weaken their momentum, pumping cold ocean water to the surface to starve them of energy. The U.S. government has even taken the time to explain why it's "not a good idea" to blow up hurricanes with nuclear bombs (turns out there are multiple reasons!).

But here's one more possible way to attack the next Katrina: How about we wall off parts of the coastline with wind farms, which would then drain energy from these monster storm systems as they move through miles of spinning blades?

It's not as ridiculous a theory as you might imagine, at least according to the Stanford and University of Delaware researchers proposing it. They believe that platoons of oceanic wind turbines could diminish wind speeds and wave heights, as well as lower the kind of tidal surges that preceded the ultra-destructive Typhoon Haiyan. As one of them asserts: "The little turbines can fight back the beast."

The team came to this conclusion using a climate model to simulate how hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and Isaac would move through vast fields of tens of thousands of turbines. They found that the machines would parasitically suck energy from the hurricanes' edge, causing a chain reaction in which slower winds would circle toward the storm's eye. This process hinted at major decreases in wind speed – a drop of 87 mph for Sandy, 92 mph for Katrina – and a 34 and 79 percent reduction in flooding for both storms, respectively.

Deploying armies of turbines that would be much larger than any wind farm existing today would be expensive. But unlike the cheaper option of building seawalls to mitigate flooding, the researchers say, the farms would help minimize wind damage and provide additional green benefits like reducing society's fossil-fuel dependence. And best of all is that the turbines supposedly could keep doing their energy-producing work even as a hurricane mowed over them:

While the wind farms would not completely dissipate a hurricane, the milder winds would also prevent the turbines from being damaged. Turbines are designed to keep spinning up to a certain wind speed, above which the blades lock and feather into a protective position. The study showed that wind farms would slow wind speeds so that they would not reach that threshold.

The study suggests that offshore wind farms would serve two important purposes: prevent significant damage to cities during hurricanes and produce clean energy year-round in normal conditions as well as hurricane-like conditions. This makes offshore wind farms an alternative protective measure to seawalls, which only serve one purpose and do not generate energy.

Top image: Guido Amrein, Switzerland / Shutterstock.com

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  2. photo: subway in NYC
    Transportation

    Inside Bloomberg's $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

    Drawing on his time as New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg proposes handing power and money to urban leaders as part of his Democratic presidential bid.

  3. photo: a couple tries out a mattress in a store.
    Equity

    What’s the Future of the ‘Sleep Economy’?

    As bed-in-a-box startup Casper files for an IPO, the buzzy mattress seller is betting that the next big thing in sleep is brick-and-mortar retail outlets.

  4. photo: San Diego's Trolley
    Transportation

    Out of Darkness, Light Rail!

    In an era of austere federal funding for urban public transportation, light rail seemed to make sense. Did the little trains of the 1980s pull their own weight?

  5. A woman, forced into the street by blocked sidewalks, pushes a stroller down a street in Boston.
    Perspective

    Why Cities, Not Individuals, Should Clear Snow From Sidewalks

    Most U.S. cities leave the responsibility of sidewalk snow removal to homeowners, landlords, and businesses. The result: endangered pedestrians.

×