Tilting at Windmills: Wind Turbines Show up on Weather Radar

Among the many things that weather radar can detect — aside from precipitation, bats, bugs, planes, the ground, space shuttles, and tornado debris — are the tall wind turbines used to generate energy across many parts of the central United States.

There were two prominent features on the radar yesterday afternoon in the skies over Texas. One of them was a massive supercell thunderstorm that produced hail almost as large as baseballs, and the other were miles of wind turbines that dot the landscape east of Abilene.

Tilting at Windmills: Wind Turbines Show up on Weather Radar

The radar site itself is located just below the center of the above image, underneath the red dot with the blue letters that say "KDYX." The massive blob towards the top of the image is the hail-producing thunderstorm, and the wind turbines are the cluster of colorful returns just below left-of-center, northeast of Abilene.

Tilting at Windmills: Wind Turbines Show up on Weather Radar

When you zoom almost all the way in on the radar returns, it looks like a very small series of thunderstorms forming a conga line on the Texas prairies, but it's really the blades on the turbines reflecting the radar beam back to the site itself. The radar registers the strong return of its beam and thinks that the wind turbines are extremely heavy precipitation.

Tilting at Windmills: Wind Turbines Show up on Weather Radar

Tilting at Windmills: Wind Turbines Show up on Weather Radar

Tilting at Windmills: Wind Turbines Show up on Weather Radar

It's a pretty cool phenomenon, but it can trick you if you don't know what you're looking at. The USGS recently released a map of all of the wind turbines in the United States, so the farm near Abilene isn't the only area in the country where the turbines interfere with weather radar.

Thankfully, the interference is just noise and has never caused any problems with tracking severe weather.

[Images via AP / Gibson Ridge]