Turbulence on planes is set to triple as climate change kicks in

Buckle up

In future, you’ll spend a lot more of flights in your seat, with the seatbelt light on – and quite possibly feeling a bit queasy.

Research from the University of Reading suggests that turbulence will significantly increase the amount of ‘severe turbulence’ – stronger than gravity – by 2050/2080.

Severe turbulence is strong enough to throw people and luggage around an aircraft cabin.

Severe turbulence at a typical cruising altitude of 39,000 feet will become up to two or three times as common throughout the year over the North Atlantic (+180%), Europe (+160%), North America (+110%), the North Pacific (+90%), and Asia (+60%).


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Professor Paul Williams of the University of Reading says, ‘This problem is only going to worsen as the climate continues to change.

‘Air turbulence is increasing across the globe, in all seasons, and at multiple cruising altitudes. This problem is only going to worsen as the climate continues to change. Our study highlights the need to develop improved turbulence forecasts, which could reduce the risk of injuries to passengers and lower the cost of turbulence to airlines.’

The new research, analyses supercomputer simulations of the future atmosphere with a focus on clear-air turbulence, which is particularly hazardous because it is invisible.

The expected turbulence increases are a consequence of global temperature changes, which are strengthening wind instabilities at high altitudes in the jet streams and making pockets of rough air stronger and more frequent.