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UD researcher predicts wind turbines reduce hurricane rainfall

Courtesy of NASA

There aren’t currently any wind turbines off Delaware's coast, but a University of Delaware researcher’s work suggests having some could do more than just provide electricity.


Offshore wind turbines in the path of a hurricane can significantly reduce rainfall once that hurricane reaches shore.


That’s the takeaway of a recent paper published by Cristina Archer, a professor at UD’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment.


She modelled how rainfall in Houston would have looked if offshore wind turbines had stood in the path of last year’s Hurricane Harvey.


“Wind farms don’t absorb rain, right?” she said. “They just move it around."


The turbines take wind energy out of the system and change wind patterns. This makes more rain fall before the storm reaches land.


Archer’s models used between 22,000 and 75,000 turbines—and saw about 15 percent less accumulated precipitation in Houston.


“We put a large number of turbines to shock the system. We wanted to have a large signature,” she said.


Archer admits this number of wind turbines used in her models is unrealistic, especially considering there are only five offshore wind turbines in the U.S. right now.


But according to the U.S. Department of Energy, offshore wind projects planned nationwide as of June would have 25,464 megawatts of generating capacity—or thousands of turbines.


Archer notes describing one more localized benefit of offshore wind could help sway people who are initially against such projects.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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