The National Wind Institute will take part in a $2.5 million government research project.

Researchers Receive Grant to Improve Wind Forecasting

Better wind forecasting could spell cheaper energy for consumers deriving power from wind farms.

Researchers at Texas Tech University’s National Wind Institute will take part in a $2.5 million government research project to improve short-term wind forecasting capabilities in mountainous terrain to help enhance wind-energy creation.

Brian Ancell, an assistant professor of atmospheric sciences, said the project is led by Vaisala, a company known for manufacturing environmental measuring devices. It is part of the Wind Forecast Improvement Project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Quite a few wind farms are in areas of mountainous terrain, and forecasts are really bad there for a variety of reasons,” Ancell said. “Our study area is the Columbia River Gorge, which cuts through the Cascade Mountains between Washington State and Oregon. It’s one of the hardest places to forecast because of all the variables. At night, you have these things called drainage flows, where cold air sinks down the mountainsides. At other times, the Pacific Ocean cools the western side, and there’s hotter air on the eastern side of the Cascades leading to a temperature gradient that ultimately creates strong winds through the gap. It’s very tricky.”

When forecasting wind, Ancell said modern weather models have a “resolution” of about a few kilometers and are forced to generalize data about topography and land surface characteristics like soil moisture. While this works fairly well for about 75 percent of the U.S. landmass, mountainous regions have terrains with an added degree of complexity, making the prediction of winds there very difficult.