Clear-air turbulence is on the rise.
The last flight I took was awful. It bumped and bounced all the way from Minnesota to New York, despite it appearing to be a pretty clear night. This went against everything I thought I knew about rough air, which I always associated with a cloudy flight. But apparently, we’re now living through a boom in something called “clear-air turbulence,” which experts warn is getting worse as the planet warms.
The phenomenon isn’t new and is caused by patches of perfectly clear air that are swirling through the world’s jetstreams, which are regularly flowing currents of air that most aircraft follow to increase efficiency and decrease travel times. When the swirling air meets the more uniform air in the jetstream, it causes a hot mess that can toss a plane up and down.
Because this type of turbulence often occurs on a perfectly clear day, it’s harder for air traffic controllers and pilots to predict when it might hit. This is why you might hear your captain announce over the tannoy that they are dropping down or climbing up to find a patch of smoother air to fly in.
According to Scientific America, the incidence of this kind of turbulence is on the rise, as those erratic currents of air are much more common in extreme temperatures. In fact some models predict that as the planet warms, incidents of clear-air turbulence could be about to rise by as much as 100 to 200 percent over the next 30 to 60 years.
So, now you know what’s shaking the plane when you can’t see a cloud in the sky. The more you know.
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