WxTalk Webinar #86


Webinar #85 - May 2023

Influences of Thunderstorms on Aviation Turbulence

Stan Trier
Boulder, Colorado


Turbulence presents problems for both general and commercial aviation through its potential for causing bodily injuries and by imposing significant added costs to air travel related to efforts at its avoidance. Turbulence can result from numerous different physical processes including heating of the earth’s surface, interaction of winds with mountain ranges, large changes in the strength or direction of the horizontal winds with altitude (i.e., wind shear), and from thunderstorms. In this presentation I will focus on the numerous different effects thunderstorms can have on aviation turbulence. 

Many have had unfortunately experienced strong turbulence arising from flying through thunderstorms with significant in-cloud updrafts and downdrafts. Most often this type of turbulence can be avoided through use of both terminal and on-board radars operating in most commercial aircraft. However, the effects of thunderstorms on turbulence can extend well beyond the vertical and horizontal boundaries of the cloud. This type of turbulence is “invisible” and is therefore most difficult to detect and avoid.  Thunderstorms produce both waves and enhanced winds in the surrounding air, and under certain meteorological conditions, these aspects may greatly increase the likelihood of turbulence. Currently, a small subset of the commercial aviation fleet in the United States has sensors from which the turbulence can be derived and recorded, and these data can later be examined to identify turbulence cases. In our research, we use computer models to simulate possible turbulence mechanisms involved in some of these identified turbulence cases. In this presentation I will show numerous examples of different types of thunderstorm-generated turbulence from simulated observed cases and discuss current efforts in operational forecasting of aviation turbulence.

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