Saturday, September 11, 2021

Airplane Turbulence, Everything you need to know about it

If you have ever travelled by flight, you may have faced the problem of turbulence. Do you know what this airplane turbulence is? What are it causes and what to do if you face it in future? Let us have a look at all of these points one by one.

What Is Turbulence?

Turbulence basically means disruption of airflow over the wings of an airplane, which causes it to enter an irregular vertical motion or in simple words turbulence can also be defined as the instability in the air surrounding a plane. You can also read Why airplanes don’t fly over Tibet?

Types of turbulence

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has four levels of turbulence: light, moderate, severe, and extreme. Let us have a look at each of them one by one.

Light turbulence : As it is named light turbulence, whenever such turbulence occurs we don’t feel that much problem. We can easily walk around the cabin. And somehow it feels like a rhythmic bumpiness.

Moderate turbulence : This type of turbulence has increased bumpiness than the light one and we will feel strain from our seat belt. During moderate turbulence, pilots turn on the seat belt sign alerting passengers to return to their seats.

Severe turbulence : Severe turbulence occurs very rarely. It comes with some sudden and violent weightlessness and often cause more strain on our seatbelt.

Extreme turbulence : It is the most rare type of turbulence. During extreme turbulence, one will experience violent bounce and shake, and the objects in the cabin may get thrown away from their place by the turbulence.

What causes turbulence?

The cause of turbulence is dependent on several factors, from the temperature to the direction that air is blowing. Let us have a look at some of the major factors that contribute to turbulence.

1.  One of the main factor causing turbulence is due to friction between the air and the ground. This often occurs in areas where tall buildings or mountains exist. A tall building or mountains or trees can impact the way passengers feel aboard the airplane. As air flows horizontally, anything in its way can cause a disruption leading to rough air. 

These formations can create eddies, which are the areas in which the wind moves opposite to the flow direction. Depending on the aircraft’s altitude, crossing a rocky or hilly area will most likely bring turbulence. Such turbulence is also known as mechanical turbulence.

2.  As the sun comes up and heats the ground, the air becomes hot and then this hot air rises and mixes with cooler air. The two air masses mixing creates an imbalance, which results in rough air and hence causing a turbulence. This type of turbulence typically happens closer to the ground and creates bumpy ride of airplane turbulence in clouds. Such turbulence is also known as thermal turbulence.

3.  When a cold air mass hits a warm air mass it causes uneven air and hence causing a turbulence, because they both have different directions and speeds. Such condition most often occurs when the air is moist and unstable. This type of turbulence is also known as frontal turbulence.

4.  Wind sheer : This type of airplane turbulence occurs when there’s a change in wind speed or direction over a specific horizontal or vertical distance. 

5.  Clear air turbulence :- It refers to high altitude turbulence associated with the jet stream which are the prevailing wind that makes airplane faster to fly west-to-east versus east-to-west.

According to some researchers storms can generate bumpy conditions to a very long distance. According to these researchers the rapid growth of storm clouds pushes air away, generating waves in the atmosphere that can break up into turbulence hundreds to thousands of kilometers away.

Is turbulence dangerous?

Well it depends on the nature and intensity of the turbulence. Airplanes face some form of turbulence on a regular basis, and pilots are trained to deal with such conditions. About 80 percent of commercial aircraft experience turbulence.

In actuality, turbulence is normal, and nothing to fear. It’s more of a convenience and safety issue than a crash threat. The reason pilots tell passengers to return to their seats and fasten their belts is to avoid bumps, not because the plane is going to crash. Buckling up and following instructions will reduce one’s chances of injury from falling objects or lost footing.

Pilots use preflight weather briefings to detect turbulence along their route of flight. Once airborne, pilots will receive ‘ride reports’ from other aircrew who encountered turbulence, they have time to coordinate a path around the turbulence. There’s a very strong network of weather experts, air traffic controllers, and pilots working together to ensure the smoothest flight for everyone.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable to fly through light and moderate turbulence, but the pilots try their best to find smooth air. If pilots encounter severe or extreme turbulence not forecasted, they will quickly climb or descend to a safe and smooth altitude.[Read – Why airplanes dump fuel?]

However, there have been several instances of turbulence bringing down aircrafts. But in these cases, while intense turbulence has been the main cause of an accident, several other factors such as lack of proper training, poor transmission of weather or wind-related information played a huge role in the accident.

How can airlines or pilots avoid turbulence?

Pilots use several methods to predict airplane turbulence in clouds both before takeoff and while in flight. Before takeoff, pilots carefully monitor weather conditions. They work carefully with meteorologists to find the best route to avoid any turbulence.

While in the air, pilots rely upon a weather radar display to indicate upcoming turbulence and alert passengers to return to their seats for safety reasons. For this they use a color-coded system. Green color indicates light rain and mild turbulence. Yellow color indicates moderate levels of precipitation. Red color indicates the most severe weather and what causes turbulence of greatest severity. Pilots also keep their eyes on different cloud formations.

What passengers can do when an aircraft encounters turbulence?

According to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), “passengers can easily prevent injuries from unexpected turbulence by keeping their seat belt buckled at all times”. The FAA advises passengers to listen to instructions given by the flight attendants and pay attention to the safety briefing at the beginning of the flight.

Passengers are advised to read the safety briefing card and wear a seat belt at all times. They should use an approved child safety seat or device if a child is under two and to stick to the airline’s carry-on restrictions. When passengers encounter rougher air, they could feel weightless or a hard pull on their seatbelt. Passengers are refrain from using the washroom whenever there is turbulence.

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