Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Aircraft Turbulence to Increase as Climate Changes

Photo by Mario Gomez.
The worst aircraft turbulence I ever experienced was on a flight from Tampa to San Francisco. The flight was smooth until we reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Then, the captain came on and told everyone to buckle up because he expected some heavy turbulence due to high level winds. For about 20 minutes we were thrown up and down and side to side as we made our way across the mountains. It was so bad that many of the overhead bins opened and luggage was flying around. People were screaming and some were crying. I really thought that the aircraft was being blown apart. I couldn't imagine how we could possibly survive. Of course we did survive and I have experienced many other bumpy flights since, but nothing like that flight to San Francisco.

In the last year, turbulence related injuries have doubled in the U.S. Just recently, clear air turbulence injured several people near Bangkok.  While turbulence has caused airplane crashes, for the most part turbulence is nothing to worry about. Airplanes are built to withstand the bumps. 

But climate change is making things bumpier. 

A new study by Paul Williams published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences modeled aircraft turbulence under a number of different climate change scenarios over the Atlantic and found that turbulence will increase as a result of the increase of wind shear at cruising altitudes. What is fascinating about the study is that he looked at the likelihood of light, moderate, and severe turbulence in clear air settings and found that the greatest increase is in the severe category with an increase of 149%.

Check out the article here.

While the increase in turbulence will not stop aircraft from flying, it certainly will make flying even more uncomfortable and more dangerous.

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