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What Is Turbulence? Different Types & Causes Of Turbulence

By: Propel RC
Updated On: June 28, 2022

Turbulence. It's a word that sends a shiver down the spine of even the most experienced pilots. What is turbulence? Why does it happen? And most importantly, how can you protect yourself from it?

Turbulence is something every frequent flyer and pilot may come across at least once in their life. It can be defined as the sudden and often violent movement of air. Turbulence may not seem like a big deal to some, but it can actually be very dangerous.

Flyers may have been exposed to turbulence when the pilot announces it on the intercom and requests all the passengers to buckle their seat belts. During this period, the passengers experience a jostling of the aircraft and may even feel as if the plane is dropping.

Turbulence can occur both during takeoff and landing or at cruising altitude. It can be caused by a number of factors, including weather conditions, turbulence from other aircraft, jet streams, and more. Turbulence can range from light to severe, and it is important to know how to react in case of turbulence.

In general, turbulence is not a cause for alarm. In this blog post, we will answer all of your questions about turbulence in detail. Stay safe out there!

What is Turbulence?

Although briefly defined above, a more detailed definition of turbulence would be air particles' chaotic and random movement. Turbulence occurs when there is instability in the atmosphere, which can be caused by a number of factors that we will discuss later on.

What is Turbulence?

Turbulence can occur both during landing, takeoff, and cruising altitude. Its intensity can range from light to severe, and knowledge about operating during turbulence is critical for a flyer and a pilot.

What are the Causes of Turbulence?

Turbulence is caused by a number of factors, including:

Weather Conditions

Turbulence can be caused by thunderstorms, turbulence from other aircraft, jet streams, and more. During this time, it is important for pilots to be extra vigilant and avoid turbulence if possible. The unstable weather results in turbulence when the air hits an obstacle, such as a mountain.

READ: HOW DO PLANES FLY IN BAD WEATHER CONDITIONS? IS IT SAFE OR NOT?

Turbulence from other Aircraft

The movement of other aircraft can also cause turbulence. This is most common in areas where there is a lot of air traffic, such as near airports. When one plane moves through the air, it creates turbulence that can affect other planes nearby.

Jet Streams

Jet streams are strong, narrow air currents flowing at high altitudes. They are created by the difference in temperature between the cold air near the poles and the warm air near the equator. Jet streams can be very dangerous for aircraft, as they can cause turbulence.

Jet streams are another common cause of turbulence. They are created by the difference in air pressure at high altitudes and can be very strong. Jet streams can often be found near mountains, and they can make it difficult for pilots to control the aircraft.

Aircraft Type

The type of aircraft can also affect turbulence. Larger aircraft are less affected by turbulence than smaller ones. This is because larger aircraft have a higher mass and therefore more inertia, which makes them resistant to changes in motion.

Mechanical Turbulence

This occurs when an aircraft encounters turbulence from another aircraft or object in the sky. This occurs due to the wake turbulence from the leading aircraft. The turbulence can last for several minutes and can be very dangerous.

Clear Air Turbulence (CAT)

CAT is often referred to as the most dangerous type of turbulence. This is because it occurs without any visible warning, making it difficult for pilots to avoid. CAT can occur at any time and can be caused by a number of factors, such as jet streams and thunderstorms. This turbulence mostly occurs at high altitudes and can be very dangerous.

Mountain Waves

Mountain waves are turbulence that is caused by the wind hitting a mountain. These waves can be very strong and can last for several minutes. They can occur at any time but are most common in the evening or early morning. Mountain waves can be very dangerous and can cause aircraft to crash.

Wake Turbulence

Wake turbulence is turbulence that is created by the wake of an aircraft. It can often be seen as a V-shaped cloud behind an aircraft. Wake turbulence can be dangerous for smaller aircraft, as it can cause them to lose control.

Thermals Turbulence

Thermal turbulence is caused when warm air rises quickly through the atmosphere. This kind of turbulence is often experienced during takeoffs and landings. This is experienced in an airplane when the plane hits a pocket of rising air, which can cause the plane to jolt.

Mechanical Turbulence

Mechanical turbulence is caused by the movement of another aircraft or object. This kind of turbulence can often be seen in areas where there is a lot of air traffic, such as airports. When one plane moves through the air, it creates a sort of turbulence that can affect other planes which are nearby.

Frontal Turbulence

Another type of turbulence is frontal turbulence caused by air pressure changes. This kind of turbulence can often be seen in the form of cumulonimbus clouds. Frontal turbulence can be very dangerous for aircraft, as it can cause the plane to lose control.

Wind Shear

Wind shear is a sudden change in wind speed or direction. It can often be seen as a gust of wind coming from nowhere. Wind shear can be very dangerous for aircraft, as it can cause the plane to lose control. The resultant turbulence can often be strong enough to damage the aircraft.

READ: 7 MOST HAZARDOUS ATTITUDES IN AVIATION: HOW TO AVOID THEM?

Is Turbulence Predictable?

Turbulence is a phenomenon that can be difficult to predict. This is because it can be caused by a number of factors, such as weather, aircraft type, and the movement of other aircraft. However, there are some things that you can look out for that may indicate turbulence.

Is Turbulence Predictable?

The first thing you can do is look for changes in the weather. If you see a change in the wind speed or direction, or if there are cumulonimbus clouds present, turbulence is likely. You can also look for changes in the aircraft's flight path.

If the aircraft starts to deviate from its normal flight path, turbulence is likely. Finally, you can listen to the radio communications between the pilot and air traffic control. If the pilot mentions turbulence, it is likely that there is turbulence ahead.

The onboard weather radar can also be used to predict turbulence. The radar will show areas of high and low pressure, as well as areas of turbulence. If you see an area of turbulence on the radar, it is likely that there is turbulence ahead.

READ: 5 CAUSES OF PLANE CRASHES & PREVENTIVE MEASURES

Categories of Turbulence

Based on the levels of intensity, turbulence can be classified into the following categories:

Light Turbulence

Light turbulence is when the aircraft experiences slight bumps. This turbulence is not dangerous and does not require the pilot to take any action.

The intensity ranges from light to moderate. During light turbulence, passengers may experience a slight jolt, but the aircraft will remain stable.

Moderate Turbulence

Moderate turbulence is when the aircraft experiences moderate bumps. This turbulence is not dangerous but can be uncomfortable for passengers. The pilot may need to adjust the aircraft's flight path slightly.

The intensity ranges from moderate to severe. During moderate turbulence, passengers may experience a jarring motion, but the aircraft will remain stable.

Severe Turbulence

Severe turbulence is when the aircraft experienced severe bumps. This turbulence can be dangerous and can cause the aircraft to lose control. The pilot will need to make significant adjustments to the aircraft's flight path.

The intensity ranges from severe to extreme. During severe turbulence, passengers may experience a violent motion, and the aircraft may lose altitude.

Extreme Turbulence

Extreme turbulence is when the aircraft experiences extreme bumps. This turbulence is very dangerous and can cause the aircraft to crash.

The pilot will need to make drastic adjustments to the aircraft's flight path. During extreme turbulence, passengers may experience violent motion, and the aircraft may lose altitude.

How to react during Turbulence?

Turbulence can be a frightening experience for passengers, especially if you are not expecting it. However, it is important to remain calm and follow the instructions of the pilot.

If you are seated, make sure your seatbelt is fastened and remain in your seat with your head against the headrest. If you are standing, hold onto a handrail and bend your knees to absorb the impact of turbulence.

Do not walk around the cabin during turbulence. This can be dangerous as you may lose your balance and fall. If turbulence is severe, the pilot may instruct passengers to put on their oxygen masks because the cabin may lose pressure. Put on your oxygen mask and make sure it is fitted correctly before helping others.

Turbulence can be a frightening experience, but it is important to remain calm and follow the instructions of the pilot. It is also common to experience nausea during turbulence. To help combat this, try to focus on something outside of the aircraft, such as the clouds or horizon.

Once the turbulence is over, the pilot will turn off the seatbelt sign, and you can move around the cabin again. If you have any questions, ask a member of the cabin crew. They will be happy to help you.

Also, please be mindful of the luggage after the flight. It is very probable that some will have fallen during the turbulence. Therefore, be vigilant when collecting your belongings from the overhead bins.

Turbulence in Light Aircraft

Turbulence in light aircraft should also be discussed because it can be more intense than in bigger commercial ones. The main turbulence types include clear air, mountain waves, and thermal and mechanical turbulence.

Turbulence in Light Aircraft

Light aircraft pilots should know how to react to all of them. For example, if you encounter CAT, the best thing to do is to descend to a lower level where the turbulence is not as intense. On the other hand, if you hit turbulence while flying in a valley, it is best to climb to get over it.

When it comes to lighter aircraft are more susceptible to damage due to turbulence. That is why it is essential for pilots to know how to react and what turbulence types they may encounter.

Turbulence is a topic that every pilot should be familiar with, regardless of the size or type of aircraft they fly. By understanding the causes and types of turbulence, pilots can better prepare themselves and their passengers for a turbulence encounter.

If you are a pilot, make sure you know how to react in case of turbulence. If you are a passenger, remember to remain calm and follow the instructions of the cabin crew and pilots.

Final Thoughts

Although turbulence is something to worry about in extreme situations, it is not dangerous in most cases. It is a normal part of flying, and turbulence encounters are expected.

The best thing you can do is to remain calm and follow the instructions of the pilots and cabin crew. As a pilot, make sure you are familiar with turbulence and know how to react in case of turbulence.

As a cabin crew member, it is your responsibility to help passengers feel calm and comfortable during turbulence. Ask a cabin crew member or pilot if you have any questions about turbulence. They will be happy to help you.

Most airplanes are designed to combat turbulence and fly smoothly in turbulence. However, turbulence can still be a scary experience, especially if you are not expecting it. But remember that it could only last for a short duration, and hang in there. Thank you for reading!

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