Structural health monitoring in the context of a Micon 65/13 horizontal axis wind turbine was described in this paper as a process in statistical pattern recognition. Simulation data from a calibrated model with less than 8% error in the first 14 natural frequencies of vibration was used to study the operational response under various wind states as well as the effects of three types of damage in the blade, low speed shaft and yaw joint. It was shown that vertical wind shear and turbulent winds lead to different modal contributions in the operational response of the turbine suggesting that the sensitivity of operational data to damage depends on the wind loads. It is also shown that there is less than a 4% change in the wind turbine natural frequencies given a 25% reduction in the stiffness at the root of one blade. The modal assurance criterion was used to analyse the corresponding changes in modal deflections, and this criterion exhibited nearly orthogonal changes because of the three damage scenarios suggesting that the modal deflection determines which damage is observable at a given frequency for a given wind state. The' modal contribution is calculated as a damage feature, which changes as much as 100% for 50% reductions in blade root stiffness, but only the blade damage is detected using this feature. Operational data was used to study variations in the forced blade response to determine the likelihood that small levels of damage can be detected amidst variations in wind speed across the rotor plane. The standard deviation in measured data was shown to be smallest for the span and edge-wise measurements at 1P due to gravity, which provides the dominant forcing function at this frequency. A 3% change in the response in the span and edge-wise directions because of damage is required to detect a change of three standard deviations in contrast to the 90% change in flap direction response that is required to detect a similar change because of damage. The dynamic displacement in the span direction is then used to extract a damage feature from the simulation data that provides the ability to both locate and quantify the reduction in stiffness in the blade root. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.