THE climate change is bringing turbulence (figuratively and literally), perhaps even reshuffles, to aviation. The reason for the jet streams, which are becoming faster due to climate change – something that could cause serious turbulence during a flight, as a relevant study warns.

We’ve all seen videos of scary turbulence during flights. Turbulence can be dangerous, even fatal. In fact, his new study University of Chicago warns that such events could become even more common – due to changes in the environment.

The authors of the study report that global warming is accelerating tornadoes, due to changes in air density in the Earth’s atmosphere. These higher wind speeds cause more violent updrafts and downdrafts – resulting in severe turbulence in airplanes.

We already know that global warming and severe turbulence have increased since the 1970s, but the new study pinpoints cause and effect. The new study was led by researchers from the University of Chicago and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“Based on these results and our current understanding, we expect record winds,” Professor Tiffany Shaw told the University of Chicago.

Tornadoes are strong winds in the upper atmosphere that drive much of Earth’s weather systems and are associated with outbreaks of severe weather. They usually move from west to east across the globe in the upper atmosphere, about 10 kilometers above the ground.

Tornadoes form due to the contrast between cold, dense air at the poles and warm, light air in the tropics, combined with the Earth’s rotation. By combining climate change models with what we know about the physics of jet streams, the researchers found that climate change is intensifying this contrast.

Scientists already know that one potentially positive effect of the jet stream is faster flights, depending on the direction a plane is headed. Aircraft can “windsurf” to increase their speed and reduce flight times, while burning less fuel and in turn reducing carbon emissions.

A University of Reading study found that commercial transatlantic flights could use up to 16% less fuel if they made better use of fast winds. While faster transatlantic flights may not seem so bad, the flip side of the coin is that planes are likely to experience more turbulence. In addition, air currents strongly influence the weather on the ground – including the most severe weather events.

“Air currents are important because they shape the Earth’s surface climate by directing weather systems and are associated with extreme weather events,” the scientists say in their study. “Specifically, areas around fast-moving upper-level jet streams have been linked to the occurrence of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail and strong winds.”

The team stress that more research is needed to predict exactly how these faster winds will affect individual storms and severe weather events.

The new study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.