London, Oct 13 : Scientists in the UK have developed a new forecasting method for air turbulence, which is much better than previous models.
According to a report in New Scientist, Paul Williams and his colleagues at the University of Reading, UK, developed the new model.
Two types of turbulence affect aircraft. The first, caused by storms, high winds or the flow of air over mountains, is fairly predictable.
Clear air turbulence (CAT) is a different matter.
"The skies are clear and blue, everything looks fine, but there is invisible turbulence there and pilots fly through it," said Paul Williams at the University of Reading, UK. As a result, CAT causes hundreds of injuries a year to airline passengers.
The existing method of warning pilots of CAT, called Graphical Turbulence Guidance, relies on pilot reports and observations of the atmosphere, including lightning data, but is not particularly accurate.
To improve on these predictions, Williams and his colleagues decided to focus on the cause of the turbulence: the gravity waves generated at the boundary of fast-moving high-altitude jet streams with slower-moving air.
Their model uses wind speed measurements to predict where these boundaries lie, and so where the gravity waves are likely to be strongest.
When they applied the model to a 144-day period in 2005 and 2006, and compared the results against actual reports of CAT, it successfully predicted 83 per cent of the reported incidents.
According to Williams, results so far are raising hopes that the new forecasting approach may be more effective than the best methods used today.