Levels Of Turbulence & How “Light” Turbulence Caused A Hospital Visit

by SharonKurheg

Turbulence — tur·bu·lence — /ˈtərbyələns/
noun: violent or unsteady movement of air or water, or of some other fluid.
“the plane shuddered as it entered some turbulence”

If you’ve ever flown, chances are you’ve experienced turbulence at one point or another. More often than not, the pilot will come on the PA system and announce they’re about to experience some turbulence. This will be followed by being told not to leave your seats, the seatbelt sign going on, and possible the flight attendants being to go to their seats, as well. And then you start feeling varying degrees of turbulence.

Pilots try to avoid turbulence as much as possible, but sometimes it’s impossible to circumvent. Turbulence is also one of the biggest reasons for why some people hate flying (here are several others – how many can you relate to?).

Local news reported that late last week, a Delta Air Lines Airbus A321 (you remember how to tell the difference between an Airbus and a Boeing plane, right?) flying from Orlando FL to Salt Lake City UT went through an episode of what was called “light turbulence.” The plane, with 143 passengers and 6 crew on board, was in mid-flight when the turbulence began. Three people were injured and needed to be evaluated by airport paramedics upon landing. One of the three needed to be transported to an area hospital.

All because of “light” turbulence.

When I first read about that story, I started wondering what exactly “light” turbulence was. I mean, “light” anything usually doesn’t connote a trip to the hospital. So I looked around to see what I could find.

It turns out there are 6 types of turbulence. Each one, not surprisingly, is more extreme than the one before:

1. Light Chop

Light chop is considered a slight, rapid, and somewhat rhythmic bumpiness. You don’t experience any large deviations in altitude or attitude (no, not personality type of attitude, LOL. “Attitude” in aviation is based on “relative positions of the nose and wings on the natural horizon.” If your plane is staying pretty steady, without the nose of the plane going up or down a lot, or the plane tilting from side to side, then your attitude hasn’t changed). Not a whole lot changes inside the plane.

2. Light Turbulence

Light turbulence is a series of momentary, slightly erratic changes in your altitude or attitude. When you have light turbulence, you may feel a slight strain against your seat belt. Small unsecured objects might get dislodged in your plane. If you were allowed to walk around the cabin during a period of light turbulence, it wouldn’t be very difficult.

This is what happened to the Airbus from Orlando to Salt Lake City. It kind of makes me even more curious as to what happened to those people. Did something fall from overhead? Did a person have a hot drink that spilled over? I guess we’ll never know. But anyway, that’s “light turbulence.”

3. Moderate Chop

Moderate chop is similar to light chop, but it’s more intense. Moderate chop has consistent bumps or jolts, with little to no change in altitude or attitude.

4. Moderate Turbulence

Here’s where you start rockin’. Moderate turbulence consists of changes in your altitude or attitude. You’ll feel a definite strain against your seat belt. And anything that’s unsecured in the cabin would become dislodged. If you could, walking would be difficult in the cabin.

In perusing the internet some more, I found a reference to the same story about that Orlando to Salt lake City flight, in the Charlotte Observer. Their reporting made it sound as if the turbulence was a little more serious:

“We just dropped,” the sisters [Shayla and Savannah Florence] told KUTV. “It was moving side-to-side. My books started flying and everyone was kind of screaming and yelling and there was a second there that I was really positive that we were going down.”

The Charlotte Observer also said that 6 crew members along with the 3 passengers were injured.

Personally, I think that kind of sounds more like moderate turbulence, if that’s how it happened.

5. Severe Turbulence

Severe turbulence consists of large, abrupt changes in altitude or attitude. You’ll be forced violently against your seat belt and anything loose, or things on your tray table, will be tossed aside violently.

I’d say the second half of this video is a representation of severe turbulence. It’s also what I’d imagine this flight through a massive thunderstorm must have felt like.

6. Extreme Turbulence

No one wants this one to happen. In extreme turbulence, the plane is violently tossed about and, unfortunately, almost impossible for the pilots to control. Extreme turbulence can cause structural damage or structural failure.

Feature Photo: pxhere

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Christian September 1, 2022 - 10:48 pm

Interesting. I’ve always wondered how pilots don’t jerk around in turbulence, which would cause even more problems with controlling the plane.

Lara S. September 2, 2022 - 12:29 pm

I forgot how funny that Key and Peele skit is. I think if you are up and about and the turbulence hits, even mild turbulence, and you aren’t super steady on your feet you could easily bump your head or land on your arm/wrist by tripping and need an x-ray. Especially if older. Or for flight crew, if they were in the galley with a lot of stuff around during or after meal service, things sliding can drop hard onto feet.


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