Air Turbulence whilst flying – What is it?

We have, most likely, all experienced some air turbulence whilst flying. Whether you are flying to one of the popular holiday destinations or flying long haul, air turbulence can happen anywhere. So, what is air turbulence? and what causes it? If you have a fear of flying then it is worthwhile understanding what air turbulence is and understanding that it is not something to worry about!

Turbulence is caused by the weather. There are three types of weather that normally cause turbulence. First there is strong winds close to the ground, storm clouds and clear air turbulence.If an aircraft is coming into land or taking off and there are strong winds this can cause turbulence. Airports are often surrounded by hangars and terminal buildings and wind blowing across these can cause turbulence, this is similar to the effects of a stone being placed in the middle of the stream. This can make the approach or take off bumpy but pilots are trained to deal with these situations. If the wind is too strong pilots will often hold off until the wind drops or divert to another airfield where the wind is not as strong. Pilots never take off without having received the weather forcecats for the destination so they know what to expect.

Storm clouds can also cause turbulence and pilots will always do their best to avoid this type of weather, they do this not because the turbulence is dangerous but because they aim to make the flight as smooth as possible. In the centre of storm clouds there can be quite strong up draughts and down-draughts and this is what pilots are doing their best to avoid. Pilots remain clear of storm clouds by either looking out of the window or by using their weather radars.

Clear air turbulence is associated with strong winds at higher levels . These can be caused by jet streams which travel west to east at usually very fast speeds. At the edge of the jet stream the winds can make the air quite turbulent, whereas in the centre of the jet stream the conditions can be quite smooth. Often if you are travelling across the Atlantic from the UK to the USA your flight will take you away from the jet streams, but on your return the pilot of your flight will attempt to fly in the middle so as to benefit from the winds and this can reduce your journey time by as much as an hour.

Take a look at this fascinating video which explains in simple terms what causes air turbulence.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InDwr1fXx98&w=425&h=344]

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