Ground Zero for Urban Wind Power?

Timlynn Babitsky | Thinking Forward | Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

By Timlynn Babitsky
With wind energy now such a broad topic of conversation, a number of places are looking to claim “best wind” bragging rights. Take Chicago for example. Widely known as The Windy City, locals there shiver, shake and proudly state how nearly continuously the wind off Lake Michigan blows briskly up and down their streets. As we take a deeper look at the state of urban wind energy today, is Chicago the best site for urban wind power development?

The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture claims that The Windy City nickname for Chicago does not have a thing to do with wind power. It came from an editorial written by Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun. He wrote his piece to belittle Chicago as it vied against New York (Washington, D.C., and St. Louis) to become the host city for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. He referred to the “windy” (as in full of hot air) bragging of the Chicago promoters making the case to choose their city.

Other sources claim that the nickname goes back even further to rivalry between Chicago and Cincinnati for bragging rights in the meat packing industry which then spilled over into baseball. Cincinnati newspapers covering the baseball rivalry used the term “windy city” to imply that Chicago was just full of bluster.

Whatever the source of The Windy City nickname, anyone who lives there, anyone who visits would certainly agree that it is quite windy almost all time in Chicago. How does Chicago’s wind power compare to other US cities?

Based on the National Climatic Data Center’s data on annual average wind speeds, the top windiest cities in the US in average wind speed in mph are:

  1. Dodge City, Kansas 13.9
  2. Amarillo, Texas 13.5
  3. Rochester, Minnesota 13.1
  4. Casper, Wyoming 12.9
  5. Cheyenne, Wyoming 12.9
  6. Great Falls, Montana 12.7
  7. Goodland, Kansas 12.6
  8. Boston, Massachusetts 12.5
  9. Lubbock, Texas 12.4
  10. New York City 12.2
  11. Oklahoma City 12.2

Chicago ranks about twenty-first out of 68 windy cities, with an average wind speed of 10.3 miles per hour. So the right to being called The Windy City based on wind power alone can continue to remain controversial. That is not really the issue.

The real question is with so many US cities having excellent average annual wind speeds, why is it that we don’t hear much more in the press about urban wind energy development? Why don’t we have numerous urban rooftop wind development test projects being covered in the news?

We will dig into the current state of urban wind development and see what’s available today in roof top turbine design over the next few blog posts here at the Wind Power Handbook.

In the meantime, if you’d like to read more on the history of The Windy City and how it got its name, here are a few good sources for your background reading.

Donald Miller’s City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America

Norman Bolotin’s The World’s Columbian Exposition: The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893

And, my all time favorite – a very well written super read – Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America