When Hurricane Sandy hit, he wondered whether enough wind turbines could extract energy from a hurricane and even lessen the impact. Then, once the computer models had advanced, the theory was put to the test.
Each computer model divides the atmosphere up into horizontal boxes stacked on top of each other like 3-D grids, Jacobson explained. Equations are added that describe the atmospheric motions happening inside and between the boxes. The scientists created models that simulated Hurricanes Isaac, Sandy and Katrina -- with and without wind farms.
According to their simulations, turbines could reduce a hurricane's wind speeds by up to 92 miles per hour. When the scientists modeled Hurricane Katrina, they found that 78,000 wind turbines -- a little more than 300 gigawatts of installed power -- stationed within 60 miles of the Louisiana shore would have significantly slowed the winds and also decreased the storm surge up to 79 percent.
The models also showed substantial wind speed and storm surge reductions for Isaac and Sandy. And using even half as many turbines would still have a benefit, Jacobson said.