Climate Change Will Probably Make Flights More Turbulent

Credit: Moazzam Ali Brohi

A warming earth won’t just affect water and land. It’s coming for the air too, according to a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. That means flights are going to get a lot more bumpy.

The authors focused specifically on “clear-air turbulence,” (CAT for short). It’s the type that interrupts a smooth ride in clear weather, typically striking just as you’ve received a cup of hot coffee from your flight attendant. CAT is hard to measure and track in real time, the paper says, which makes avoiding sudden turbulence difficult for pilots.

Changes in the jet stream, caused by more CO2 in the atmosphere, are going to make finding smooth air even harder. From 2050 to 2080, the authors estimate that moderate to severe CAT could increase up to 300 percent in some of the busiest flight lanes around the world. Those include paths over North America, Europe, and the Atlantic Ocean.

“The strongest turbulence will increase the most, highlighting the importance of improving turbulence forecasts and flight planning to limit discomfort and injuries to passengers and crew,” the paper says.

Thankfully, actual accidents caused by CAT are incredibly rare. The paper cites an estimated 45 injuries happen due to bumpy air each year. In the future, you may just need to find a more secure top for that coffee — or head straight for the mini bottles of whiskey to calm the nerves.