Climate Change Will Likely Increase Airplane Turbulence

A new study predicts increasingly stronger turbulence as the climate changes. Mike Kemp/Getty Images

Most scientists say global warming is already doing a number on Mother Earth. Whether it's shrinking glaciers, harsher droughts or stronger hurricanes, rising temperatures could mean trouble for the planet and the future generations of people and animals who live on it. The trouble is that the only immediate impact of global warming that many folks tend to want to see is the occasional, and probably unrelated, unseasonably toasty day.

That's why new global warming research from the University of Reading is so interesting. Sure, the rising climes might not mean drastic, instant changes in the way we live, but they could make flying a lot less comfortable. That's right: Climate change means more extreme turbulence for air travelers.

If you've never white-knuckled the back of an airplane seat while your flying chariot hurls itself in various directions at random, then you may have never experienced real turbulence. Slight and erratic changes to a plane's path are a relatively common part of air travel. They can be caused by bad weather and strong wind, among other factors. British researcher Paul Williams, the author of the new study published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, says more severe forms of turbulence are also likely coming our way thanks to powerful jet streams resulting from climate change.

The lighter, run-of-the-mill turbulence that most travelers have encountered at one time or another may become nearly 60 percent more common as wind shears kick up, according to the study. But the largest upswing will be in the heavy turbulence that makes some people start questioning the meaning of life and reconsidering whether there's a higher power. We're talking about the type of bumpy ride that would send unbuckled passengers spilling into aisles and make getting up to hit the john a serious safety hazard.

"For most passengers, light turbulence is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience that reduces their comfort levels, but for nervous fliers even light turbulence can be distressing," Williams says in a press release. "However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149 percent increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalizes air travelers and flight attendants around the world."

In other words? Buckle up.