Offshore wind turbines could weaken hurricanes, study finds

Massive wind turbines that could dot the horizon from Ocean City within a few years could affect more than the power grid -- they might offer some protection from hurricanes, a study has found.

The idea is that the turbines' rotation saps some of the energy out of the atmosphere along the coast, according to a study published online today in the journal Nature Climate Change. That means the ingredients a storm needs to maintain or gain strength could be reduced.

That could end up providing fodder for offshore wind proponents' arguments, because the study suggests the value of hurricane damage that could be avoided could be added to any cost-benefit analysis of offshore wind.

Researchers at the University of Delaware and Stanford University used a model that forecasts climate, weather, air pollution and ocean conditions to explore how the presence of offshore windmills would have affected the strength and the tracks of hurricanes like Sandy and Katrina. They had previously used the model to test whether wind energy generation contributed to global warming, as some had suggested in the past, said Cristina Archer, an associate professor at Delaware and co-author of the study.

The model suggested that in the case of Sandy, Katrina and Hurricane Isaac, the wind turbines would have indeed had an impact.

The model found that the wind farms would have caused slight shifts in the storms' routes to shore, and would have slightly lessened wind speeds before, during and after landfall. The models also suggested slightly higher pressure in the storms' center, meaning they would be slightly weaker overall.

The model also found reductions in air pollution and other factors that helped to make wind power more cost-effective. Critics have fought efforts by Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration to build wind power because of its high cost.

"In sum, large arrays of offshore wind turbines seem to diminish hurricane risk cost-effectively while reducing air pollution and global warming and providing energy supply at a lower net cost than conventional fuels," the study's authors wrote.

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