(WKBN) – The end of the year is near, and that means that millions of people will be taking flights during the holiday season. Inevitably, many will experience a bumpy flight at some point in time this holiday season.
This was the topic of a weather question from a viewer this week.
James Block, of Minneapolis, MN, asked: “What causes turbulence during flights?”
The reason for turbulence during flights is the up-and-down wind that actually moves the aircraft. Regardless of the weather conditions, there is almost always some level of turbulence in the atmosphere. One way to know if there is vertical motion in the air is to look for clouds. The formation of clouds requires air to move vertically in the sky so that water vapor can cool and condense into cloud droplets.
Low-pressure systems often get stronger closer to the holiday months, which results in increased turbulence across the United States. One way to explain the formation of turbulence would be to discuss the development of thunderstorms.
A typical summertime thunderstorm forms first by the sun heating the Earth. This leads to rising motion in the atmosphere, which is the start of turbulence. Then, the rising air cools and condenses into a cloud. The cloud droplets grow in size and eventually overcome the vertical motion and fall back to the Earth creating a downward motion. This is turbulence.
Now, this is an extreme example. The turbulence experienced during flights is not as strong as what happens in a thunderstorm. This is the reason why flights are grounded due to thunderstorms because the plane would not be able to function in the strong vertical motion.
However, this same process occurs on a smaller scale all the time in the atmosphere. Pilots are always having to account for these areas of turbulence, which is why it is often discussed during your voyage.
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