Learn about the North American ‘Wind Drought’.
It seems a long time ago now, but it was only last March that my hometown of Boston was digging out from the last of a series of storms that dumped almost 3 meters of snow on the city. It was the heaviest accumulation since Boston started keeping records in 1872.
That was only one of a number of strange weather events in North America in 2015. Last spring, much of Texas and Oklahoma suffered weeks of torrential rains that destroyed crops, drowned cattle, and flooded houses. Even worse, California was and remains in the throes of one of the most severe droughts on record. Though it started in late 2011, the drought has only intensified this year.
Winds have also behaved strangely, albeit in a less dramatic way. Wind resources have been unquestionably low in much of North America – so low that the possibility of a prolonged ‘wind drought’ has been on the minds of many in the wind industry.
When I talk to our clients about this, they want to know three things:
- How severe was the wind drought, really?
- Why have winds been so low this year, and does it have anything to do with El Niño or climate change?
- Most important: What is the outlook for 2016?
I’ll do my best in this blog to answer these questions (though the last one is tough).
How low were winds in North America in 2015?
The simple answer is, in the first half of the year, very low indeed. The three maps below show wind anomalies for the first 3 quarters of 2015. Blue colors represent wind speeds below the 1988-2014 average for the same quarter. Yellow and orange represent above-normal speeds. (The maps were generated by AWS Truepower using a custom blend of 3 reanalysis data sets. For more maps and other information see our Wind Trends Bulletin.)
In the first 2 quarters, average wind speeds were at least 9% below average, and in some places more than 18% below average, throughout most of the West, the Great Plains, and Mexico. These deficits affected some of the continent’s largest concentrations of wind plants, and consequently had a huge impact on the wind industry’s production and revenues in this period. (Typically, every percent decrease in average wind speed produces roughly a 1.5%-2% decrease in average output.)