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Just a Thought About Tornadoes and Wind Turbines

  1. Jun 4, 2016 #1
    I was asked a question and since I have no solid answer I'm re-asking it here. The question was about wind turbines and tornadoes/hurricanes. All that raw energy and we've never tapped into it. Here's the question: Why? I understand the difficulties inherent with a project like this but the question has been bugging me ever since I was asked it. Now, I'm not an engineer, my interests are in mathematics, physics, Star Trek and Doctor Who. Which is why I'm asking you lot, and I'm probably doing this all wrong but who cares? I have a question and I want an answer that I can't destroy.
    Thank you if you help and even if you don't.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 4, 2016 #2


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    What is your question?

    Why don't we tap the power of tornados and hurricanes?

    I've got a question: how? It's not as simple as setting up a zillion wind turbines all across the country.
  4. Jun 4, 2016 #3
    I apologize for not stating my question more clearly. I am aware that it is no simple task. I am simply curious if there has been any serious consideration given it or if it has simply been written off as impossible or impracticable. If it has been considered then what are the problems? I can guess at some of them but wish to know more details. That was why I asked, albeit not very well.
  5. Jun 4, 2016 #4


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    If you have the means to predict exactly where a tornado is going to move such that you can place something in the path to harness energy, then you're prediction method has much more societal importance than power extraction. You could save lives. With a tornado, the problem would be predicting where one would actually be and having something that is mobile so that it could get in the way as well as durable so that it could withstand the winds that can be in excess of 300 mph. It would be extraordinarily expensive to just install such structures all over just in case since the hardening would be very expensive.

    With hurricanes, I bet offshore wind turbines already do some of this and have the luxury of working just fine even under normal conditions, so that makes a lot more sense so long as said turbines can stand up to hurricane-force winds (which are quite a bit lower than tornadoes).
  6. Jun 4, 2016 #5


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    I think you're trying to solve the wrong problem. The problem facing us today is not that we don't have enough energy (there's plenty available); it is that we don't have enough cost-effective energy.

    (The effort involved in trying to tap tornadoes is huge - you never know where they'll be, and they won't last long. There's no practical way to trap any large fraction of the energy, so you trap a small fraction - but over a year, the energy is a drop in the bucket.

    The effort involved in trying to tap hurricanes is also huge - their energy is distributed over a continent. There's no practical way to trap any large fraction of the energy, so you trap a small fraction - but over a year, the energy is a drop in the bucket.)

    Why go to the effort (and expense) of trying to tap a very elusive form of energy when there is plenty of wind energy and solar energy in every square metre?

    The fundamental issue is which problem are you hoping to solve?
  7. Jun 4, 2016 #6
    I know you're probably thinking that the cost effectiveness of converting storm energy into usable energy is almost secondary. If I can spend $10 million on windmills that produces only $5 million worth of electricity, that may still be cost effective if removing that energy from the storm prevents $7 million worth of damage, right?

    The thing is that there are more cost effective ways of producing electricity AND mitigating storm damage. In other words, in the above example, I may be able to produce the same $5 million worth of electricity in some other way with a $3 million investment, and if I'm also interested in mitigating storm damage, I can spend the other $7 million on things that would prevent much more then $7 million in damage.

    So the bottom line is that power generation and storm damage mitigation can both be accomplished more efficiently, by doing them separately, with current technology. Now, If you've got an idea for a new technology that does both, at the same time, and improves economic efficiency over doing them separately, then by all means, get a patent, and start manufacturing it. You will become wealthy, society will be better off, and that is how the innovation in a capitalist society is supposed to work ;-)
  8. Jun 4, 2016 #7


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    I think the OP also falls into the trap of thinking that if a wind turbine can get X kilowatts out of a breeze which is say 40 mph, then you should be able to scale this power output up for when the wind is blowing at 120 mph, like in a mild hurricane.

    The problem with that is then you must design the wind turbine structure to withstand 120 mph winds all the time, but you experience winds with lower average velocities most of the time. Cyclonic storms like hurricanes and tornadoes don't produce nice even wind velocity profiles, and their occurrence and path of travel are very difficult to predict.

    A typical tornado, such as there is, will pass by a fixed point fairly rapidly, in a matter of minutes or so.

    Hurricanes are much larger storms, but the highest winds are confined to a relatively small area around the eye wall. These storms typically produce high winds at a given location only for a few hours at most, unless the storm becomes stationary for a time as they can do occasionally.

    It comes down to this: it is very difficult to extract energy from highly mobile storms with fixed installations like wind turbines, unless the storm happens to pass by the installation, which is not guaranteed.
  9. Jun 5, 2016 #8

    jim hardy

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    The storms you describe also blow down the power lines.
    Andrew blew down even the concrete poles in Homestead.
    What good does it do to make all that power at the very time you can't deliver it ?
  10. Jun 5, 2016 #9


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    Good point. Hurricanes and tornadoes are quite destructive, and although each type of storm contains a massive amount of energy driving the winds, the destruction each storm can bring more than outweighs any transient benefit derived from extracting part of this energy to generate electricity.
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