Everything You Need to Know About Turbulence

Can we actually predict when and where we will experience turbulence when flying? As often as we fly, are you not curious to know more about turbulence?

The NYC Aviation has provided a two-part series on everything you need to know about turbulence. Below is an excerpt of their first informational article:

“Predicting the where, when, and how much of turbulence is more of an art than a science. We take our cues from weather charts, radar returns, and, most useful of all, real-time reports from other aircraft. Some meteorological indicators are more reliable than others. For example, those burbling, cotton-ball cumulus clouds—particularly the anvil-topped variety that occur in conjunction with thunderstorms—are always a lumpy encounter. Flights over mountain ranges and through certain frontal boundaries will also get the cabin bells dinging, as will transiting a jet stream boundary. But every now and then it’s totally unforeseen. When we hit those bumps on the way to Europe that night, what info we had told us not to expect anything worse than mild chop. Later, in an area where stronger turbulence had been forecast, it was perfectly smooth. You just don’t know.

When we pass on reports to other crews, turbulence is graded from “light” to “extreme.” The worst encounters entail a postflight inspection by maintenance staff. There are definitions for each degree, but in practice the grades are awarded subjectively. I’ve never been through an extreme, but I’ve had my share of moderates and a sprinkling of severes.

Powerful turbulence has, on occasion, resulted in damage to aircraft and injury to their occupants. With respect to the latter, these are typically people who fell or were thrown about because they weren’t belted in. About sixty people, two-thirds of them flight attendants, are injured by turbulence annually in the United States. That works out to about twenty passengers. Twenty out of the 800 million or so who fly each year in this country.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that turbulence is becoming more prevalent as a byproduct of climate change. Turbulence is a symptom of the weather from which it spawns, and it stands to reason that as global warming intensifies certain patterns, experiences like the one I had over Maine will become more common.”

Basically, turbulence is so unpredictable

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