As larger wind turbines are placed on taller towers, rotors frequently operate in atmospheric conditions that support organized, coherent turbulent structures. It is hypothesized that these structures have a detrimental impact on the blade fatigue life experienced by the wind turbine. These structures are extremely difficult to identify with sophisticated anemometry such as ultrasonic anemometers. This study was performed to identify the vortex characteristics that contribute to high-amplitude cyclic blade loads, assuming that these vortices exist under certain atmospheric conditions. This study does not attempt to demonstrate the existence of these coherent turbulent structures. In order to ascertain the idealized worst-case scenario for vortical inflow structures impinging on a wind turbine rotor, we created a simple, analytic vortex model. The Rankine vortex model assumes that the vortex core undergoes solid body rotation to avoid a singularity at the vortex centre and is surrounded by a two-dimensional potential flow field. Using the wind turbine as a sensor and the FAST wind turbine dynamics code with limited degrees of freedom, we determined the aerodynamic loads imparted to the wind turbine by the vortex structure. We varied the size, strength, rotational direction, plane of rotation, and location of the vortex over a wide range of operating parameters. We identified the vortex conformation with the most significant effect on the blade root bending moment cyclic amplitude. Vortices with radii on the scale of the rotor diameter or smaller caused blade root bending moment cyclic amplitudes that contribute to high damage density. The rotational orientation, clockwise or counter-clockwise, produces little difference in the bending moment response. Vortices in the XZ plane produce bending moment amplitudes significantly greater than vortices in the YZ plane. Published in 2005 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.