April 7, 2017.   Things That Go Bump.

It stands to reason that as global warming intensifies certain weather patterns and creates stronger storms, inflight encounters with strong turbulence will increase. Until recently, however, there haven’t been any formal studies linking climate change with rougher flying. Now there are. A new paper published by atmospheric scientist Paul Williams from the University of Reading suggests that instances of strong, potentially dangerous turbulence will increase significantly by the middle of the century. The study is an expansion of an earlier, 2013 analysis of wind patterns in a busy section of North Atlantic airspace between the U.S. and Europe. That analysis showed a marked increase in both the severity and frequency of all grades of turbulence, from “light” through “severe.” You can read more details here.

I’ve been flying across the North Atlantic since 1997. My observations are just that, and are purely anecdotal, but what I’ve experienced more or less meshes with the research. It’s become bumpier and windier, on average, and storms seem to be larger and more widespread. Most notably, it’s no longer uncommon to encounter thunderstorms even in the colder months.

More extreme weather will have impacts both aloft and on the ground. Turbulence isn’t the only concern. Pilots will also face an increase in things like hail, low-level windshear and microbursts, while more frequent and powerful storms, both in summer and winter, will wreak logistical havoc at airports. The bottom line repercussions for airlines could be in the tens of billions annually. There is mounting concern that extreme temperatures could render major airports in parts of the Middle East, India and Africa unusable during certain summer periods.


Back to the Ask the Pilot Home Page Visit the Blog Archive Back to Top!