Expert: Clear-air turbulence getting worse due to climate change

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EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — If you’re a nervous flyer, you may want to tighten your seat belt a little more the next time you board a plane.

Researchers say one form of turbulence is getting worse and climate change is to blame.

Unlike conventional turbulence, which happens when planes fly near weather systems, clear-air turbulence happens without the presence of clouds, making it nearly impossible for pilots to detect until it’s too late.

According to Dr. Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading in England, rising carbon dioxide levels could destabilize the fast-moving air currents of the transatlantic jet stream, an area that currently sees up to 3,000 flights each day.

“We’ve calculated that the amount of severe turbulence, which is strong enough to hospitalize people, could double or even as much as triple by the end of this century on transatlantic flight routes because of climate change,” Dr. Williams explained.

Researchers predict a 149% spike in severe air turbulence, along with longer travel times, increased delays and inevitably, higher ticket prices.

In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigated 44 turbulence-related injuries, more than double the amount from the year before.