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There's a Hot Wind A-Blowin'

May 7, 2012

Hurricanes are now named for both men and women; but, prior to 1979, they all had women's names. The practice of naming cyclones after women began in World War II. It started with the publication of the 1941 novel, Storm by George R. Stewart.[1] Stewart named the storm in this novel, "Maria," and the idea of naming storms after women was picked-up by the military meteorologists in the Pacific.

Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe extended this idea to a song, They Call the Wind, Maria, in their Broadway musical, Paint Your Wagon. If Lerner and Loewe were song-writing in today's age of political correctness and gender-neutral language, the title might have been, "They Call the Wind, Marvie."[2]

I read an interesting science fiction story many years ago (title and author forgotten) about a mission to a planet beset by heavy winds; so heavy, that humans could barely sustain their base. The intelligent natives of the planet are adapted to the environment, since they have tentacles to grasp onto rocks to prevent their being blown away.

The aliens communicate with the Earthmen in a halfway house that filters just enough of the wind for humans to enter and the aliens to survive. The winds are intense, and the joke of the story is that the alien creatures announce that they will be migrating to some caves for protection, since the "windy season" is forthcoming.

A planet like the one described above would never have an energy crisis, since there's enough wind energy for just about anything. The downside, of course, is that human inhabitants would need to live underground. On Earth, we live in a compromise environment in which the winds are usually not strong enough to kill us, but often intense enough for wind energy harvesting.

The logical way to make a wind farm is to have all your wind turbines near each other; but, as I reviewed in several previous articles (However the Wind Blows (February 7, 2012), Kind of a Drag (August 10, 2011), and Bigger than a Butterfly (January 11, 2011)), turbulence from upstream turbines will affect the efficiency of the downstream turbines. There's a messy optimization required to get the most wind power from your plot of land by factoring in many non-technical variables such as capital expenses and property taxes. Just adding more turbines might decrease your profitability, rather than helping it.

Wind farm in Texas (US DOE)

Now, that's a wind farm!

Photograph of a wind farm in Texas. Wind farms such as this have been found to be warmer than their surroundings.

(U.S. Department of Energy photograph))

Now it appears that turbulence has another effect. A study by atmospheric scientists has revealed that wind farms are hotter than their surroundings.[3-9] The research group was composed of members from the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, State University of New York (Albany, New York), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Camp Springs, Maryland), the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois (Urbana, Illinois), and Terra-Gen Power LLC (San Diego, California).[3]

The research team used satellite remote sensing data for a region of west-central Texas for the years 2003-2011.[3] Four of the world's largest wind farms are located in this region (see photograph). They found a significant warming trend, tracking the build-up of wind farms in that region, of up to 0.72 °C (1.37 °F) per decade relative to the surrounding areas devoid of wind farms.[3-4] The number of wind turbines in this region of Texas went from 111 in 2003 to 2325 in 2009,[6] and 2358 in 2011.[7] The temperature difference was gauged by the difference in average temperature between 2009-11 and 2003-5.[6] Figure caption

Night-time land surface temperature differences near wind farms between 2010 and 2013. (NSF Image, Liming Zhou et al.))

The warming pattern mirrors the geographic distribution of the turbines, indicative of a causal affect,[4] but scientists leave nothing to chance. The team also examined other factors that might cause such a change, including the growth of vegetation. None of these could produce as large a change as seen.[6]

The proposed mechanism involves mixing of upper layers of the atmosphere down to ground level. Turbulence caused by the wind turbines pulls down warmer air from higher altitudes during nighttime hours.[4-5,9] Above ground air is warmer than surface air at night, since the Earth's surface cools faster than the air.[7] This condition is often used by fruit growers who use helicopter flights over orchards to warm the ground air and prevent morning frost.[5-7]

Liming Zhou, an atmospheric scientist at the University at Albany and leader of the study, says that this effect might become important factor for regional climate if wind farms become more widespread. China, for example, erects about 36 wind turbines every day.[5] This research was published in the journal, Nature Climate Change.[3]


  1. Stewart is known, also, for his 1949 novel, Earth Abides, that describes the adventures of survivors in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Surprisingly, the apocalypse was from disease, and not from atomic weapons.
  2. Male first names, US Census Bureau; Marvin is the 115th most common male name. Female first names, US Census Bureau; Marva is the 887th most common female name.
  3. Liming Zhou, Yuhong Tian, Somnath Baidya Roy, Chris Thorncroft, Lance F. Bosart and Yuanlong Hu, "Impacts of wind farms on land surface temperature," Nature Climate Change, Published online, 29 April 29, 2012, doi:10.1038/nclimate1505
  4. Scientists Find Night-Warming Effect Over Large Wind Farms in Texas, National Science Foundation Press Release No. 12-078, April 29, 2012.
  5. Louise Gray, "Wind farms can cause climate change, finds new study," Telegraph (UK), April 29, 2012.
  6. Richard Black, "Wind farms affect local weather," BBC News, April 29, 2012.
  7. Damian Carrington, "Windfarms can increase night time temperatures, research reveals," Guardian (UK), April 29, 2012.
  8. Simon Sharwood, "Wind farms create local warming," Register (UK), April 30, 2012
  9. Robert Lee Hotz, "Large Wind Farms Increase Temperatures Near Ground," Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2012.

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