Everyone (well, mostly everyone) is worried about the effects of climate change on global weather patterns. But what if wind power–one of the most prominent clean energy solutions–affects the weather too? According to scientists at the University of Maryland, large wind farms could potentially change the weather patterns of areas downwind. And that could lead to a whole new kind of NIMBYism.
Atmospheric scientist Daniel Kirk-Davidoff and his colleague Daniel Barrie calculated the effect of covering the Midwest with a grid of wind farms containing thousands of wind turbines. The result? Wind speeds lowered 5.5-5.7 miles per hour directly downwind. That’s not too scary by itself, but the turbines also caused massive disruptions in air currents, leading to changes in the strength, motion and timing of storms over the entire North Atlantic.
This doesn’t mean that we should stop building wind farms entirely; it’s not likely that the entire Midwest will be blanketed with a grid of wind farms anytime soon, and the same effect could happen when a new city layered with skyscrapers is built (hint hint, China). But it does mean that studies about wind turbine weather impact should be fleshed out before embarking on major turbine initiatives. In the end, though, we may resign ourselves to the fact that any changes in storm intensity caused by wind farms is negligible compared to the wacky weather patterns caused by global warming.