Apart from the rising sea levels and longer droughts, scientists now claim that global climate change could make flying just a bit more turbulent in the near future.
In an interview with CNN, Paul Williams, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading in the UK, said climate change is modifying turbulence, and computer simulations showed that severe turbulence “could double or triple in the coming decades.”
He also explains that there is a scale for measuring how strong turbulence is.
“There’s light turbulence, which is a bit of strain against your seat belt, but food service can continue.
“Then there’s moderate turbulence, a definite strain against seat belts, anything that’s not secured will be dislodged, and walking is difficult; flight attendants are usually instructed to take their seats.”
“The worst kind is severe turbulence: this is stronger than gravity, so it can pin you to your seat and if you’re not wearing your seat belt you’ll be tossed around inside the cabin. This is the kind of turbulence that causes serious injuries — it’s been known to break bones, for example,” Williams said.
He said that about 65,000 aircraft suffer moderate turbulence every year in the US, while about 5,500 flights run severe turbulence.
William said that if computer simulations prove to be true, we may have to prepare ourselves for more frequent bumpy flights. “We ran some computer simulations and found that severe turbulence could double or triple in the coming decades,” he said.
However, he said what is more concerning is the frequency of ‘clear air turbulence’ that was highlighted in these simulations. Unlike regular turbulence, clear air turbulence is not connected to any visual clues such as storms or clouds and it is incredibly difficult to avoid.
According to the US-based National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 28% of flights experienced turbulence of which the flight crew had no warning between 2009 and 2018.
Williams’ analysis predicts that clear-air turbulence will increase significantly around the globe by the period 2050-2080. While the predictions are decades ahead of us, it serves as a warning for us to stop harming our environment.
Nonetheless, according to William, the more frequent turbulence does not make air travel any less safe and in fact, it’s still the safest form of transport in the world, even more than cars, trains, buses, boats, and motorcycles.
“Planes are not going to start falling out of the sky, because aircraft are built to very high specification and they can withstand the worst turbulence they can ever expect to encounter, even in the future,” Williams said.
“Typically, on a transatlantic flight, you might expect 10 minutes of turbulence. I think that in a few decades this may increase to 20 minutes or to half an hour. The seat belt sign will be switched on a lot more, unfortunately for passengers,” he said.