A Moment of Science

Do Wind Farms Affect Temperature?

Wind farms are appearing all over the United States as an energy alternative. However, are they causing more harm than good.

Wind farm by mountain

Photo: Wayfinder_73 (Flickr)

Wind farms affect the temperature around them.

Giant wind turbines are a sight to behold. They’re big and majestic and, to some eyes at least, even beautiful.

But not everyone likes wind turbines. Some people complain that they make too much noise. Others argue that they spoil the view.

And yet another, less well known issue is that large wind farms affect temperature, causing the air around them to either warm up or cool down.

Changing The Temperature

Until recently, this phenomenon was well known but not well understood.

Scientists knew, for example, that the air around wind turbines is a bit cooler during the day and slightly warmer at night. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois have some data to explain what happens.

What Happens?

When turbine blades spin, they create turbulence similar to how a motorboat churns up the water in its wake. Consequently, cooler air from higher in the atmosphere is pushed down.

Meanwhile, warmer air lower to the ground is drawn up, where it mixes with the cooler air.

Location Matters

Whether a wind farm has an overall cooling or warming effect depends where it is.

In the Midwest and Great Plains, wind tends to blow more strongly at night. So wind farms there generate longer periods of slightly warmer temperatures.

Wind farms near the coastline, where wind blows mostly during the day, may have the opposite effect and create overall cooler temperatures.

Is This A Problem?

So are these cooling and warming effects a problem? It depends who you ask.

Inland farmers, at least, tend to like how wind farms keep things warm, warding off frost and extending the growing season later into the year.

Read More:

New findings about wind farms could lead to expanding their use (EurekAlert!)

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