Seeking Friendlier Skies

Can radar networks eliminate airplane turbulence?

(Cheryl Carlin)

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The current system contains another major shortcoming: about one-third of turbulence isn't caused by either thunderstorms or clouds at all. Rather, this "clear air" turbulence is caused by vertical shear produced by the jet stream—essentially a river of air—or by waves made as air passes over mountains.

A system that takes into account all types of turbulence is in the works. In the meantime, stow your tray table and strike up a game of rock-scissors-paper with the person next to you. But choose rock at your own risk.

The real Wishful Thinker behind this column was John Williams at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who predicts that advanced turbulence monitors could be used in commercial cockpits by 2011.

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