Is Climate Change Causing More Airplane Turbulence?

Apr 8, 2017

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If you’ve flown on an airplane, no matter how big or small, you’ve undoubtedly encountered turbulence. It’s an annoying fact of flying, but usually just a minor inconvenience. Now some sources are saying it’s going to get substantially worse.

According to USA Today, a recent study published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences found that air turbulence as a result of climate change could more than double by the end of this century. The study, from the University of Reading, used supercomputer simulations to determine the effect of increased carbon dioxide levels on planes cruising at 39,000 feet. The research found that the increase in turbulence would range from a rise in light turbulence of 59% to a whopping 149% surge in severe turbulence.

“Even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149% increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalizes air travelers and flight attendants around the world,” said Dr. Paul Williams, the author of the study, to USA Today.

Air turbulence has multiple causes including thunderstorms and even jet wash from other aircraft, but the research showed an increase in turbulence occurring due to strengthened wind shears and the continuing build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which at its current rate is expected to double by the year 2100.

Turbulence can be unnerving to even the most seasoned traveler, as TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig learned last year when he experienced the most terrifying flight of his life as his United plane flew into intense storm-related turbulence during its approach to Newark (EWR). Continuing improvements in technology, such as satellites that help monitor turbulence and faster reporting to dispatchers and air crews, help pilots avoid turbulence when it appears. But turbulence is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

In the meantime, when your flight crew warns you that turbulence is approaching, sit down and buckle up. And if you find yourself unexpectedly shaking around without warning, make sure you’ve read One Flight Attendant Insider’s Best Tips for Dealing With Turbulence so you’re prepared to make the best of a bumpy situation.

Featured image courtesy of olyniteowl/Getty Images.

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