Correct turbulence intensity modeling is crucial for fatigue load estimation for wind turbine structural design. It is well known that the International Electrotechnical Commission 61400-3 Normal Turbulence Model recommended for offshore wind turbine design is not representative of offshore wind conditions. A new model is urgently needed as offshore wind energy is rapidly developing worldwide. After evaluating the suitability of the Normal Turbulence Model at three sites in Asia, Europe and the USA, it is found that wind–wave interaction and stability correction should be taken into account in modeling the offshore turbulence intensity and wind speed relationship. Therefore, a new turbulence intensity model, which models wind–wave interaction with the Charnock equation and adjusts for the influence of atmospheric stability through empirical turbulence scaling functions for the unstable atmospheric boundary layer, was developed. The new model is physically based and is tested against observations from the three sites. It shows better performance than the Normal Turbulence Model and hence is recommended to replace the Normal Turbulence Model. For model application, only two parameters are required, which are defined herein to represent offshore sites with high, medium and low turbulence intensities. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.