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article imageSevere turbulence seen on Air Canada flight will only get worse

By Karen Graham     Jul 13, 2019 in Environment
An Air Canada plane on a flight from Vancouver to Australia experienced severe turbulence Thursday, injuring 37 passengers, nine of them seriously. However, with the climate crisis, this will become a lot more common in the future.
On Thursday, Air Canada flight 33 was diverted to Hawaii after hitting a patch of severe air turbulence. The injuries included lacerations and head, back and neck injuries with some passengers actually being thrown from their seats to the ceiling of the airline cabin.
Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said the Boeing 777-200 was carrying 269 passengers and 15 crew and was about two hours past Hawaii when it hit "severe clear air turbulence."
“In the minds of the passengers, the plane is plummeting hundreds or thousands of feet, but we might only see a twitch of 10 or 20 feet on the altimeter,” said Patrick Smith, commercial pilot, and host of, in an interview with The Points Guy.
“In really rare cases, it can injure people and damage aircraft, but in practice, it’s a comfort and convenience issue rather than a safety issue.” While downplaying the dangers of severe turbulence, he did point out that basically, “turbulence” is a coverall term for an instability in the air around a plane caused by winds, air pressure, temperature differentials, nearby storms, jet streams, weather fronts and other atmospheric conditions.
But It’s Getting Worse, and more frequent
Finding a flight path to avoid turbulence is always a concern for airlines. Although turbulence is often unavoidable, pilots can usually work out where the rough areas will be located by looking at weather forecasts and wind variability data. In fact, most modern aircraft use algorithms to keep tabs on high turbulence zones.
But with Clear Air Turbulence (CAT) - you can't see it - and it's difficult to predict. That is the big difference in CAT and turbulence caused by weather fronts and other atmospheric conditions.
On May 27  2011 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite...
On May 27, 2011 the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite passed over the western United States and captured this stunning true-color image of wave clouds stretching across the region. The drier air of summer, along with weaker westerly winds, makes wave formation difficult.
A study from the University of Reading published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences on April 6, 2017, was the first to examine the future of clear air turbulence, according to Digital Journal.
By analyzing the effects of increased CO2 emissions on the jet stream over the Atlantic Ocean, the world's busiest air corridor, the research team found that the increased CO2 emissions will create havoc in the air.
It was determined that the average amount of light turbulence will have increased by 59 percent, moderate by 94 percent, and severe by 149 percent by the middle of the century. The uneven warming patterns in the jet stream will make it more disordered and stronger, creating, even more, turbulence.
NASA s Kuiper Airborne Observatory  1971-1995:  One of the instruments on this flying laboratory was...
NASA's Kuiper Airborne Observatory, 1971-1995: One of the instruments on this flying laboratory was an infrared radiometer intended to detect clear air turbulence.
This means that the extreme air turbulence experienced by the passengers on Air Canada flight 33 could double or even triple as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise. This also means occurrences of severe clear air turbulence will become more common.
"That’s because more C02 means warmer temperatures, which means shifting wind patterns with stronger and less predictable airflow," said Paul Williams, a professor of atmospheric science and lead author of the 2017 study at the University of Reading in the U.K., according to Global News.
“The special thing about severe (clear air turbulence) is that it’s stronger than gravity,” he said. “So the vertical motions will be happening more rapidly than gravity. If you’re not seatbelted, or any objects are not secured, they will become catapults.”
Continental Airlines Boeing B737-524
Continental Airlines Boeing B737-524 at Houston (IAH)
Nothanks (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cost to airlines increasing
The climate crisis is having economic impacts on the airline industry. While dangerous air turbulence is a threat to safety and economic security, climate change has given us a whole new list of problems associated with global warming. As more and more extreme weather events take place, there will be more frequent groundings of flights.
This means a loss of pay for airline employees and in particular flight attendants who earn an hourly wage while in the air. The disruption of air travel will leave even more travelers stranded at airports - a not-so-pretty picture. But we're not just talking about blizzards and torrential rains.
Extreme heat can also ground airlines. In June 2017, airlines in Phoenix, Arizona were forced to cancel some flights because it was too hot for planes to take off. Basically, as the air warms, it spreads out, becoming less dense. This results in less lift-generation by an airplane's wings at a given airspeed as the aircraft gathers speed along the runway, making it difficult to rise off the runway.
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