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The monster called ‘climate change turbulence’ is an imaginary phantom

https://www.cfact.org/2024/06/01/the-monster-called-climate-change-turbulence-is-an-imaginary-phantom/

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At any moment there are something like 10,000 boxes cruising in the air that know when they strike turbulence. Rumors are that these are even staffed with sentient beings. If Climate Change was making turbulence worse, you’d think pilots would have noticed? But instead of reporting what pilots said, which is that nothing has changed, almost all the media coverage about turbulence comes from models or cherry-picked reanalysis of angels dancing at 197 hectopascals over the North Atlantic.

The European Space Agency even puts sensors on planes. With 40 million flights per year tracked by radar, monitored by satellite, and reported by pilots as well, if there were trends in clear air turbulence on passenger planes, there would be a mountain of data, and we’d hear all about it. Instead, all they have are modeled guesstimates and slightly worse conditions over the North Atlantic.

Pilots report that incidents of air turbulence are the same now as they always were

Paul Homewood has found the US National Transportation Safety Board Report, and actual pilot reports (PIREP data). Basically, in thirty years of flights and after more than half of mankind’s total fossil-fueled emissions have been emitted, there’s no trend at all;

To be fair, it could just be that we’re getting better at predicting turbulence, so pilots are better at avoiding it. But if we’re going to headline newspapers with scary stories of flight turbulence (and if we actually care about people), the most important data might be the stuff that comes from planes.

The Australian ABC blamed it all on the Ogre du Jour:

Climate change is fuelling turbulence on some of our most common flight paths

They found a Professor Troy Todd Lane at Melbourne Uni, who talks about studies that come from Reading University. One found more clear air turbulence over the North Atlantic in the last 40 years. But it also found less turbulence over South East Asia (see the figure from Prosser et al below). Using Believer-Correlation-Science — if climate change causes more turbulence, then it also causes less. Looks like extra emissions of CO2 saved lives on the Singapore Airlines flight. By the same reasoning, burn oil and protect planes in South East Asia? Clearly, the ABC team didn’t look at the paper, and also, clearly, they didn’t ask Prof. Lane any difficult questions. What do we pay them or him for — witchcraft? “See the tea leaves on the map…”

Furthermore, when the ABC says “our most common flight paths” (headlined above), they’re not talking about our Australian flights. Who is this “our”?

It’s like there is no world outside the North Atlantic.

Turbulence changing in the skies

The change in ERA5’s 197 hPa annual-mean diagnostic-mean moderate-or-greater (MOG) clear-air turbulence (CAT) probability over 1979–2020 shows (a) the absolute change and (b) the relative change. The changes are diagnosed from the linear trend. Stippling indicates statistical significance at the p = 0.05 level, according to a two-sided Wald test (Fahrmeir et al., 2022) applied to the absolute change. | Prosser et al

The Prosser et al paper was deceptively headlined “Evidence for Large Increases in Clear-Air Turbulence Over the Past Four Decades”, but it could as easily have said the opposite. They dismissed the pilot reports with barely one line:

Pilot reports (PIREPs) have a longer record but are not quantitative, and the geographical distribution of CAT based on PIREPs is limited in spatial and temporal extent (Wolff & Sharman, 2008). — Prosser et al 2023

Supposedly, the point of the Prosser paper was to help aircraft and passengers, but actual reports from pilots: “Who cares?”

The other paper quoted by the ABC was a 2017 study also from the University of Reading, and it was nothing but climate modeling and magical unverified, unvalidated fiction:

A 2017 study predicted that severe turbulence will become two to three times more common over the North Atlantic by 2050-2080 because of Climate Change. However, the same study predicted a smaller increase of 50 percent for severe turbulence over Australia.

Right there in the abstract, the 2017 paper admits it’s all games with calculators — no data needed

It’s pure fantasy extracted from models we know can’t predict cloud formation at all, or water vapor at the heights that planes fly. Their universal predictions of increasing humidity in the upper troposphere are legendary failures.  The missing hot spot was called “a fingerprint” of man-made Climate Change right up until 28 million weather balloons showed it didn’t happen.

Reading Uni has a lot to answer for. One of the most prominent scientists pushing predictions of turbulent doom is Paul Williams, who wrote the 2017 paper and at least two further ones. He predicted a 55% rise in air turbulence over the North Atlantic. But Rupa Subramanya in The Free Press, writes that extra data wiped out the trend:

In 2017, he co-authored a study that received a lot of attention because it predicted that a rise in atmospheric CO2 could double, or even triple, incidences of severe clear air turbulence. He also published a much-publicized paper in 2022 arguing that wind speed changes over the North Atlantic had increased in the last few decades—the basis for arguing that clear air turbulence will get worse. And in another widely reported paper published in 2023, Williams predicted a 55 percent increase in clear air turbulence over the North Atlantic.

But how solid is his link between clear air turbulence and climate change? Earlier this year, Williams co-authored a letter to the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, which walked back the findings of his 2022 paper. If we include new data, the letter explained, the increase in wind speeds above the North Atlantic ceases to be “statistically significant.”

Where were the headlines New data shows the professor was wrong?

Climate models will be useful when they figure out convection, clouds, rain, humidity, storms…

Professor Lane says most of the turbulence in the tropical regions comes from thunderstorms, which are intensely more intense, I tell you.

He lives by a kindergarten climate rule where “energy = catastrophe”, thus:

“With a warmer atmosphere, the atmosphere can hold more water, which can lead to those most intense thunderstorms being more intense with Climate Change. As those thunderstorms become more intense, they can also generate more intense turbulence.”

Except that the biggest-storms-of-all are not more intense. Since the Tropical Cyclone Accumulated Energy Index started in 1970, CO2 has risen from an ideal 325ppm to an apocalyptic 425ppm, and the global population has doubled. Fifty years of reckless “pollution” have been and gone, and yet cyclones are still the same?

Prof Lane doesn’t appear to realize the water vapor hasn’t made it to the upper troposphere and even if it had, “more energy” is not always a disaster. There’s not as much energy in Antarctica, but no one wants to live there, and we hear they still have storms.

Details matter. The lower troposphere has gained water vapor from the ocean as the system warmed, but it hasn’t increased in the upper troposphere where the modelers desperately need it to rise (and where those planes fly). The extra water vapor means the amount of energy held in the air is larger, but does that mean convection has increased or become more stable? After all, it’s not the total energy that creates instability; it’s the difference between two regions that causes the chaos.

REFERENCE

Prosser et al (2023) Evidence for Large Increases in Clear-Air Turbulence Over the Past Four Decades, 08 June 2023, https://doi.org/10.1029/2023GL103814

Williams, P.D. Increased light, moderate, and severe clear-air turbulence in response to climate change. Adv. Atmos. Sci. 34, 576–586 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00376-017-6268-2

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