Creedence on Why the South Needs more Wind Turbines

September 2, 2016

Wind farm development in the south has been slow. At one time, the sauntering southern breezes seemed too sluggish to harness for wind farm development. Research, meteorology and advanced wind turbine technology have finally enabled economic wind farm development in the south. Two southern cultural references, mixed with some new science, help explain why wind power is suddenly a smart strategy.

If you’re a Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) fan, you know their bread and butter is all things southern. Bayous, catfish jumpin’, hurricanes a blowin’ and a bad moon rising…well, you get the gist. But think about this CCR song for a spell: Have you ever seen the rain?

Someone told me long ago
There’s a calm before the storm,
I know; it’s been comin’ for some time.
When it’s over, so they say,
It’ll rain a sunny day,
I know; shinin’ down like water.
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain?
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin’ down on a sunny day?

If you take the song literally, have you ever seen it rain when it’s sunny outside? If you’ve lived in the south much, chances are pretty good that you have. But it’s a less frequent phenomenon in other parts of the country. For the majority of Americans, they have no special term for when the rain falls and the sun is shining. Here in the south, that phenomenon is frequently referred to as the “devil beating his wife.” The origin may be from a French phrase, and as the French Acadians (Cajuns) settled in Louisiana, the southernism spread through the south following the rivers and bayous. As a more politically correct alternative, the phenomenon may also be called a “sun shower.”


So what does CCR and the devil beating his wife have to do with wind energy? It’s all about wind shear.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, “wind shear is a change in wind speed and/or direction over a short distance. It can occur either horizontally or vertically and is most often associated with strong temperature inversions or density gradients. Wind shear can occur at high or low altitude.” The FAA’s interest in wind shear should be obvious: a quick change in wind speed or direction at low altitudes can prove dangerous or fatal for landing pilots. Passengers can experience wind shear as turbulence.

High wind shear can push clouds and rain around more than usual. When the sun, wind and rain are in proper alignment, a sunshower can occur. The sun is shining, but the rain is falling. Wind farm development companies have found that the south has higher wind shear than expected, and higher than many other parts of the country. By using slightly taller wind turbines, wind farm developers can reach much better wind speeds in the south, thanks to higher wind shear. So even for an observer on the ground, wind speeds may appear to be extremely low, when in fact the wind speeds are much better than expected. 

When wind shear becomes extremely powerful, it can lead to spinning and twisting of the air column and that can trigger a tornado watch. If the south has a higher wind shear than other parts of the country, could the south be experiencing more tornado watches and warnings? Absolutely. In fact, new research from Dr. Ernest Agee, a professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University suggests that conditions favorable for tornadoes are shifting to the south.  Research published earlier dubbed the southeast as “Dixie Alley” in reference to our higher levels of tornadic conditions or wind shear. Tornado watches are triggered when meteorologists see low altitude circulation, wind shear, and the south receives substantially more tornado watches than the rest of the country. Yes, tornadoes aren’t good for wind turbines, but wind turbines have been known to survive direct hits. But keep in mind tornado watches do not always materialize into full tornadoes (tornado warnings), just that the wind shear conditions are favorable for a tornado.

Dixie Alley. Tornado watches are higher in the south than the rest of the country.

CCR’s Have you ever seen the rain? and the southernism “the devil beating his wife” or “sunshowers” describe a meteorological phenomenon attributed, in part, to wind shear. The south has a stronger wind shear than much of the rest of the country, and that’s why wind farm developers are so excited about taller wind turbines in the south.


6 Responses to “Creedence on Why the South Needs more Wind Turbines”

  1. Interesting science and language (and a good old song from that southern band from El Cerrito, California)! We see sunshowers (or whatever) a lot here in Colorado, but I haven’t heard a terms for it.

    Many legends and phrases for this throughout the world, a number having to do with weddings, foxes, jackals, or wolves.

    Sunshine Through the Rain is the first segment of Akira Kurosawa’s film, Dreams, and is quite beautiful. It tells the Japanese legend that when the sun shines through the rain, foxes have their weddings.

  2. SmarterThanYourAverageBear Says:

    I’ve actually seen that phenomenon in Vancouver BC and here in the West Kootenays of BC a number of times. It’s actually one of my most vivid childhood memories from Vancouver – brilliant sunny day and rain falling on one empty lot we all played in – and nowhere else – was truly bizarre at the time 🙂

  3. SmarterThanYourAverageBear Says:

    Peter – did you see this – at the end it states

    “Wind turbines could greatly benefit from plasma DBDs,” Purdue’s Poggie says. Turbine blades must cope with heavy gusts and constantly varying, unsteady airflows that rob efficiency and stress the composite blades over time, he says. Existing mechanical fixes such as feathering, or rotating, the blades to less-exposed angles have proved either problematic or unsatisfying depending on what they’re attempting to address.

    “The concept has been around for awhile to tap off some of that generator power to run plasma actuators on the blades,” Poggie says. “That would allow the blade to respond to changes in wind speed and direction much faster to better maintain maximum power production.”

    “Wind turbine blades constantly bend, bend, bend—and are built to withstand it,” he says. But over years of constant stress and strain, these high-cost components eventually fail from mechanical fatigue. Plasmas actuators could significantly reduce those loads to extend blade lifetimes considerably, saving wind farm operators money.

    fascinating stuff

  4. toby52 Says:

    When I grew up in the West of Ireland we had “sun showers”, basically the sun shining through the rain, as the post says. As kids, saying “It’s only a sun shower!” gave us permission to stay out in it.

    I read somewhere that John Fogarty wrote the song as a metaphor for the fractious relationships within CCD (the rain), even though they were very successful professionally (the sun). Though I am sure the inspiration came from his own life.

  5. paulbeard Says:

    Here in the Pacific NW I’ve heard it called a monkey’s wedding. And yes, it’s pretty common, especially in spring.

  6. Nature’s milder or less stable wind areas should be left alone out of respect. Eagerness to expand Big Wind is like flipping the bird at what’s left of rural scenery plus flying animals destined to die in greater numbers. Wind power is all about big ships, trains, semi trucks, cranes, logging and road building, which comes after all the rare earth mining and metalworking needed for turbine factories.

    It would be much greener to phase out industrial wind power and focus subsidies on solar panels leased to building owners, along with more private purchases at lower costs. If enough of that is done with the same zeal of wind advocacy, we might eliminate the need for more big wind turbines. Newer solar panels are getting more efficient in overcast weather.

    As some of you know, one plan for making taller wind towers is the use of cement towers ( MidAmerican Energy) which makes them resemble bladed smokestacks even more. Are wind people still going to call smokestacks ugly and wind turbines “beautiful” as their looks converge? That will be an interesting hypocrisy test, among many.

    Desert areas are known for strong yet intermittent winds, and projects like the one at Ocotillo, CA often have motionless turbines. There have also been blade failures and shutdowns, along with unhappy neighbors.

    Good piece on the destruction of deserts by this new construction wave:

    The net result of wind power has been physical blight more than any real carbon reduction. The end of Big Wind would be a victory for landscapes that real environmentalists still care about.

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