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Climate Change Might Make Flying a Whole Lot Worse

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The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelt light—for the rest of all your flights, ever. Just when you thought traveling by plane couldn't possibly get any more uncomfortable, you may need to add routine extreme turbulence to stinky neighbors, bad food, no legroom, and all the other inconveniences that make flying such a hassle. The average plane ride is about to get a whole lot bumpier according to a new study warning about the effects of global climate change on air travel.

Turbulence, the air disturbances that cause planes (along with your heart) to jolt, drop, and bounce in the air, comes in three stomach-churning types, according to Popular Mechanics. The first two—turbulence from storms and turbulence from flying over mountains—are scary. But they can generally be anticipated, allowing pilots to plan for them and mitigate the effect. It's the last kind, "clear air turbulence," that is the hardest to deal with, as it seemingly comes out of nowhere. It generally happens when the plane is cruising above 30,000 feet. It's thought to be due to jet streams of hot and cold air colliding unpredictably. And it's this type that global warming impacts the most, according to the findings published in Advancements in Atmospheric Sciences.

Climate change affects the jet streams and the more they speed up, the more clear-air turbulence there will be and the more bumpy flights we'll all have. How much bumpier? Over the next few decades, light turbulence will increase by 59 percent, moderate turbulence by 75 percent and, scariest of all, severe turbulence will go up 149 percent, the scientists predict in the paper. Just to be clear: Light turbulence can make you drop your book or spill your drink; severe turbulence can send you to the hospital.

But before you resolve to drive everywhere from now on, know that technology and science are on our side. Pilots receive extensive training on how to deal with turbulence, and scientists are working to develop technologies that can spot clear-air turbulence before it happens, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. But in the meantime, buckle up.

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