Impacts of Wind Farms on Cumulus Cloud Development in the Central Great Plains

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Monday, 5 January 2015: 4:45 PM
224B (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Laren C. Mahoney, Creighton University, Omaha, NE; and T. J. Wagner, T. L'Ecuyer, and M. S. Kulie

Cumulus clouds have a net cooling effect on the surface radiative balance by reflecting more downwelling solar radiation than absorbing upwelling terrestrial radiation. As boundary layer cumuli form from buoyant, moist plumes ascending from the surface, their growth may be hindered by the turbulent deformation of the plume by wind farms. A natural laboratory to study the impact of wind farms on cumulus formation are the states of Iowa and Nebraska. Despite their prime location for wind resources and similar synoptic forcings, regulatory issues cause these two states to vary vastly in their wind power offerings. In 2013, Iowa ranked 3rd in the nation for total megawatts installed and generates over a quarter of its electricity from wind energy, more than any other state. In contrast, Nebraska has an order of magnitude fewer turbines installed, and less than five percent of the state's electrical load is wind-generated. This variance in wind power in close proximity makes Iowa and Nebraska a prime area for initial research.

This study uses Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) visible satellite imagery from the summer of 2009 to 2013 to investigate cumulus development in these adjacent states, as the majority of large-scale wind farms in Iowa were completed by 2009. Image reflectances in Nebraska and Iowa are compared to determine the magnitude of cumulus growth. Preliminary analysis indicates a reduction in cumulus development near the existing wind farms; a synoptic investigation of these cases will be completed to determine causality.