One of the First Ways You Will Experience Climate Change Is Much Scarier Airplane Turbulence

May 2, 2017 by


Fasten your seat belts—it’s going to be a bumpier ride.


Photo Credit: PR Image Factory/Shutterstock

So your uncle still doesn’t believe in climate change? Debating him likely won’t work, but thanks to a recently published study, all you may need to do is pop him on a long flight. Unfortunately, the latest ill effect caused by climate change happens to be severe turbulence.

The study, published in the May issue of Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, shows that turbulence is set to get increasingly worse over the next few years. Paul Williams, the University of Reading scientist who conducted the study, first predicted this trend back in 2013. With his latest research, Williams now has evidence to substantiate his claims.

Williams used climate model simulators to replicate the conditions of a transatlantic flight pattern during winter. He found that with an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations, there will be a relative strengthening of wind shears, which are the changes in the wind speed and direction that often cause thunderstorms. Williams’ simulation found that increased CO2 will lead to an increase in light turbulence by an average 59 percent, moderate by 94 percent and severe turbulence by up to 149 percent.

In other words, fliers can expect severe turbulence to become roughly three times worse in the next few decades.

“For most passengers, light turbulence is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience that reduces their comfort levels, but for nervous fliers even light turbulence can be distressing,” Williams said in a statement. “However,” he added, “even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149 percent increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalizes air travelers and flight attendants around the world.”

As a direct result of these findings, Williams warns of a number of other ill effects. Among these are longer flights, increased fuel consumption and emissions due to pilots attempting to avoid turbulence, and a heightened prevalence of wear-and-tear damage.

Williams estimates that U.S. airlines currently spend on average an additional $200 million per year due to turbulence. Based on his predictions, that number is set to skyrocket.

Robin Scher is a freelance writer from South Africa currently based in New York. He tweets infrequently @RobScherHimself.

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