Previous research for detecting incipient wind turbine failures, using condition monitoring algorithms, concentrated on wind turbine Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) signals, such as power output, wind speed and bearing temperatures, using power-curve and temperature relationships. However, very little research effort has been made on wind turbine SCADA alarms. When wind turbines are operating in significantly sized wind farms, these alarm triggers are overwhelming for operators or maintainers alike because of large number occurring in a 10 min SCADA period. This paper considers these alarms originating in two large populations of modern onshore wind turbines over a period of 1–2 years. First, an analysis is made on where the alarms originate. Second, a methodology for prioritizing the alarms is adopted from an oil and gas industry standard to show the seriousness of the alarm data volume. Third, two methods of alarm analysis, time-sequence and probability-based, are proposed and demonstrated on the data from one of the wind turbine populations, considering pitch and converter systems with known faults. The results of this work show that alarm data require relatively little storage yet provide rich condition monitoring information. Both the time-sequence and probability-based analysis methods have the potential to rationalize and reduce alarm data, providing valuable fault detection, diagnosis and prognosis from the conditions under which the alarms are generated. These methods should be developed and integrated into an intelligent alarm handling system for wind farms, aimed at improving wind turbine reliability to reduce downtime, increase availability and leading to a well-organized maintenance schedule. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.