Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University who has been developing a complex computer model to study air pollution, energy, weather and climate, said he wondered what would happen if a hurricane encountered a large array of offshore wind turbines.
Would the energy extracted from the storm by the turbines' spinning blades slow the winds and diminish the hurricane, or would the hurricane overwhelm and destroy the turbines?
To find out, Jacobson modified his model to see what might happen if a hurricane encountered an enormous wind farm stretching many miles offshore and along the coast, the university reported Wednesday.
For the study, Jacobson and colleagues simulated three hurricanes: Sandy and Isaac, which struck New York and New Orleans, respectively, in 2012; and Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.
The results suggested such a wind farm could disrupt a hurricane enough to reduce peak wind speeds by up to 92 mph and decrease storm surge by up to 79 percent, they said.
"We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane," Jacobson said. "This feeds back to decrease wave height, which reduces movement of air toward the center of the hurricane, increasing the central pressure, which in turn slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster."
He acknowledged that in the United States there has been political resistance to installing offshore wind turbines, but said he thinks financial incentives -- a reduction in hurricane damage costs, along with energy generation -- could motivate a change.