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What Causes Turbulence?

17 Nov 2017, 5:19 pm

It’s the worst part of flying– not counting security lines.

But it’s actually not as dangerous as you might think! And more closely tied to weather than you might think as well.

Jetstar Piolt Lands Plane in Gusty Winds

Talk about a white-knuckle landing. This Jetstar pilot successfully landed during his second pass as winds gusted in excess of 100km/h. – Video: Kristy Carstairs

Posted by WeatherNation on Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Danger

The good news is that turbulence is not nearly as dangerous as you might think.

In the past, turbulence was able to take down a plane– but that was back when TVs were black and white and drinking at work was acceptable.

These days planes can withstand turbulence that would throw you into the ceiling.
In fact, that happened a few years ago– forcing the plane to make an early landing.

But that’s about as bad as it gets. Pilots change direction and land planes early for passenger comfort.
You are perfectly safe inside an airplane.

So next time you feel the shake of turbulence, breathe, relax, and know that you will be okay.

The Weather

There are two main types of turbulence. Storm-related turbulence and clear air turbulence.

Storm-related is the stuff that happens around inclement weather and it’s rather easy to predict.
This type of turbulence happens in areas with rising or sinking air. You might hear us meteorologists talking about vertical wind shear– the movement that causes turbulence.
Often times, this is associated with storms or clouds. Frontal boundaries cause vertical wind shear as the air down at the surface changes temperature, but this can also happen high up in the sky on its own. Water vapor high up in the atmosphere will condense when it cools to the dew point. As this happens it changes it’s density, and that change in density forces some air to rise. But if there is rising in one area there has to be sinking in another in order to keep equilibrium.

Clear air turbulence is the more fun one– the type you look out the window and find clear skies below.
This type of turbulence can be caused by a few different things. The jet stream is one of the main culprits. Different speeds of winds in and around a jet can cause air to rise or sink under clear skies. This also can happen over a storm and is what we call upper-level support.
Mountains can often times cause a bumpy ride as they affect the way wind moves as it rises and falls over the large landmasses.

Often times pilots will communicate with one another in order to inform others of the hard-to-predict turbulence.

The red area is where turbulence occurred on Friday November, 17th.

Turbulence Forecast

If you are taking to the air this holiday season, you can actually check for turbulence in your flight before you take off!
The government even has a great site:

While crosswind doesn’t necessarily cause turbulence, it sure makes landing difficult!

Check out this video of a plane forced to make a hard landing due to strong crosswinds at Sylt Airport in Germany! Makes you cringe a little ─ Video by: Nature Reporter

Posted by WeatherNation on Sunday, January 11, 2015

For WeatherNation — Meteorologist Jeremy LaGoo

Cover Photo: @GaryNWS  2/22/2013

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