Even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at a 149% increase in severe turbulence.
Last month as many as 30 passengers on a Turkish Airlines plane suffered bruises and broken bones as a result of severe turbulence en route to New York.
“Nobody announced it or anything like that so we figured out something was wrong,” one passenger was quoted as saying. “Then I see people start flying on the plane. Then seeing blood all over. I had one of the ladies next to me, she really fell down from her seat on the floor and all her back was completely bloody, while someone that was working in the airplane, she cracked her leg I think completely.”
Sound horrific? Certainly. Yet such incidents are bound to become more commonplace.
Turbulence is a routine part of most flights and it causes few really serious risks to a modern passenger airplane. Severe turbulence, however, is another matter. And turbulence is going to get worse in coming years. A lot worse. The reason is climate change, according to the authors of a recent study by researchers at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.
They are warning of the increasing likelihood of extreme turbulence that is capable of shaking airplanes so badly that unbuckled passengers and crew get thrown around the cabin like so many ragdolls. “Anthropogenic climate change is expected to strengthen the vertical wind shears at aircraft cruising altitudes within the atmospheric jet streams,” the study’s authors surmise.
“Such a strengthening would increase the prevalence of the shear instabilities that generate clear-air turbulence,” they add. “Climate modelling studies have indicated that the amount of moderate-or-greater clear-air turbulence on transatlantic flight routes in winter will increase significantly in future as the climate changes.”
In other words, turbulence will be not only more common but frequently stronger as well at certain times of year in certain areas. Specifically, light turbulence in the atmosphere will increase by 59%; light-to-moderate turbulence by 75%; moderate turbulence by 94%; moderate-to-severe turbulence by 127%; and severe, teeth-rattling turbulence by 149%.
“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,” said Dr. Paul Williams, who conducted the research. “
Even if you have steelier nerves and have been untroubled much by turbulence on flights thus far, you may find yourself become far more unsettled. “[E]ven the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149% increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalises air travellers and flight attendants around the world,” Williams noted.