Travel Tip Tuesday | Air Turbulence
Air turbulence and and how to handle it.
Everyone has heard stories or has seen movies about hitting a rough patch of air while flying. Besides waiting in security lines, air turbulence is probably one of the most dreaded aspects of travel. For some of us, air turbulence is a source of anxiety, even for veteran travelers. Understanding a phenomenon like air turbulence - why it happens and what high tech systems are in place to make it safer to fly can settle the most nervous flyer. Here are the top ten things to keep in mind about air turbulence and tips on how to deal with it.
1) The basic definition of air turbulence is that it is an irregular motion of air resulting from eddies and vertical air currents. One way to visualize air turbulence is to think of smoke rising in a single strand and then breaking up into a series of different swirls.
2) Turbulence happens everywhere, at ground level as well as at cruising altitude and above and beyond that!
3) Clear Air Turbulence is known as CAT and refers to the movement of air masses that have no visual clues. They are caused when different air masses meet at different airspeeds. One of the main culprits of CAT is the invisible boundary between the jet stream when the arctic air from the polar jet stream meets the warmer air from the south.
4) Not all jet streams are turbulent. Basically, a jet-stream is described as a horizontal current of air that has strong vertical and horizontal gradients of speed. There are sub-tropical jet streams and polar jet streams that are thousands of miles long but only a few hundred miles wide. Jet streams aren’t constant and can intensify or die out making it somewhat challenging to plan for long-haul flights. Aircrafts flying near a jet stream may encounter low-level wind shear. As a plane moves away from a jet stream’s high winds, the decelerating winds create areas that are prone to turbulence.
5) Thunderstorms can create turbulence because of the vertical currents that they produce called up-draughts. The updrafts and downdrafts in the center of a storm radiate out and can push an airplane up or down. The trick here is to fly around the storm, not go through it because the worse turbulence is in the middle. Advanced weather forecasts and other pilots make avoiding thunderstorms easy. Airlines use thousands of gallons of gas a year to avoid thunderstorms.
6) Mountain turbulence is formed when strong winds blow perpendicular to mountain ranges producing air that flows over them like waves breaking on the beach. When a plane flies over mountains, these “waves” can cause turbulence.
7) Thermal turbulence is pretty common and its’ intensity is related to the intensity of thermals (hot air) and the velocity of the wind. This type of turbulence forms in the heat of midday. When this heat rises from the ground and meets the prevailing winds it can sometimes make for a bumpy ride. The reason for this is that the rising heat and wind act as obstructions to normal airflow that form turbulent air eddies that feel like bumps.
8) Flight planning charts display and forecast the intensity of CAT disturbances such as the intensity of jet streams. Weather forecasts, radar, updates from the ground, and other aircraft help pilots steer clear of the worse weather. Delta, for example, has a Flight Weather Viewer app for pilots that helps them to avoid air turbulence in real-time. This app provides pilots with a 30-minute look forward box that shows what weather systems lie ahead.
9) Turbulence is often worse at the back of the plane. The best thing to do is not to loiter in the aisles of an airplane, and, when seated, buckle up.
10) There are several apps that you can download that may help put your mind at ease because they can forecast turbulence for the route that you are flying. My Sky Guru is considered one of the best because it provides a real-time explanation of what to expect during your flight. Just enter your flight info before you board and all the necessary information about your flight gets uploaded to your phone including weather forecasts, route maps, flight history, and winds. The professional aviation weather forecast used is valid for 18 hours.
Lufthansa Airlines from Germany has been a leader in the field of passenger ’calm’ and ease when flying. They have an exclusive course (available only in German) to explain everything flying. This course is conducted by psychologists and pilots where participants are introduced to the high safety standards in aviation.
Another leading global airline, Virgin Atlantic, offers its own course that is centered around the fear of flying. It is understandable to have fear when in flying; we are not in control. Their goal is education through on-site courses, You Tube videos and a fear of flying app.
The main thing to keep in mind with turbulence are these tips on your next flight. Most certainly, air turbulence is more technical than most will ever know, however, at the end-of-the-day no accident has ever happened due to straight air turbulence and that is one of the most important statistics to remember.
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