How to minimize turbulence during a flight across Colorado

Avoiding a bumpy flight can come down to where you sit and how big the plane is.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 3:09 PM MST
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT) - Turbulence is rarely more than an inconvenience, but a rare turbulence-caused passenger death in the skies over New England shows that even things that are normal inconveniences can be deadly.

Here in Colorado, turbulence during flight is unavoidable for a lot of the state. 9News Meteorologist Cory Reppenhagen says that the Rocky Mountains create a type of turbulence called mechanical turbulence, where the slope of the mountains causes air to rise. The rising air can create a bumpy ride for aircraft.

But, Reppenhagen says that on the side of the mountain opposite from the wind direction, curls in the wind can form circulations that pilots call “rotors.”

“Pilots will warn passengers, ‘Hey, we’re about to get into an area of turbulence. Keep your seatbelt fastened because we don’t want you flying up to the ceiling because the bottom will drop out,” said aviation expert Greg Feith.

Feith said that fortunately mechanical turbulence can be forecast, and pilots usually know they’re there based on the type of wave clouds they create.

However, Reppenhagen says that there’s another type of turbulence that often strikes without warning. Pilots call it “clear air turbulence.”

“That clear air turbulence can send the airplane into a bit of a perturbation that is exacerbated depending on the size of the plane and translated to the passengers. So, if the bottom drops out, that’s instantaneous zero-g. You now become a floating projectile,” said Feith.

Feith says to always keep your seatbelt on, even when the indicator light is off. Avoiding or minimizing how much you’re affected by turbulence can depend on the size of the plane and where you sit in the plane.

“The best place to sit is over the wing and forward, because the wing itself will absorb a lot of that energy and it’s dissipated. The back of the plane’s movement is more pronounced versus the front end,” said Feith.