Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) systems are able to measure the speed of incoming wind before it reaches a wind turbine rotor. These preview wind measurements can be used in feedforward control systems designed to reduce turbine structural loads. However, the degree to which such preview-based control techniques can reduce loads by reacting to turbulence depends on how accurately the incoming wind field can be measured. This study examines the accuracy of different measurement scenarios that rely on coherent continuous-wave or pulsed Doppler LIDAR systems, in terms of root-mean-square measurement error, to determine their applicability to feedforward control. In particular, the impacts of measurement range, angular offset of the LIDAR beam from the wind direction, and measurement noise are studied for various wind conditions. A realistic simulation case involving a scanning LIDAR unit mounted in the spinner of a MW-scale wind turbine is studied in depth, with emphasis on preview distances that provide minimum measurement error for a specific scan radius. Measurement error is analyzed for LIDAR-based estimates of point wind speeds at the rotor as well as spanwise averaged blade effective wind speeds. The impact of turbulence structures with high coherent turbulent kinetic energy on measurement error is discussed as well. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.