Anyone been in strong to severe turbulence in jet?

last night on my flight from Philadelphia to Houston we encountered a prolonged bout of turbulence from about SW PA to around the area of London, KY/Nashville, TN around 7-8:30p EST. I
knew before I left for the airport that a storm system/mid-latitude cyclone was draped all along the Appalachiens w/ excessive rain in the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mtns. The turbulence didnt occur until we reached cruising altitude (31-33Kft) only problem was we were just barely at the tops. Also the tops were cu clouds at said altitude so as you would guess, anytime you have cu clouds at that altitude, you know its gonna be a bumpy ride. With parents that long careers in the airline business you would correctly guess that I have done a lot of air traveling in my time and that is most definately true. That said, the turbulence on this flight in the region previously mentioned became so excessive and severe that I began to fear not only for the integrity of the Boeing 737-800 aircraft, but also for my life. Things were honestly *BANGing around the cabin. The aft lavratory door was swinging and thus slamming itself against the side panels. Having a windows seat (24F). I had the not so great view of us going in and out of the cu clouds almost continuously. The wing bouncing to extremes Ive never wanted to see, it felt as if we were almost repeatedly hitting a 3foot high speed bumb at 300mph in a car. BANG. I was wondering what the 2 crewmen behind the yokes were thinking about and what extremes measures they were going to take. It was prob about 2minutes into another of several bouts of severe turbulence that almost with snap of fingers, it stopped. This was simultaneous with an immediate calming in noise of the engines. My guess was that the captain jerked back the throttles rapidly bringing the aircraft down to 120 -150 kts or so of airspeed from somewhere in the vicinity of 200+. This was of course a drastic measure by the 2 pilots b/c they knew that we would have to stay at such airspeed for an extended period of time due to the widespread nature of the turbulence and also due to the fact that this would significantly delay arrival into Houston thus causing many (including me) to miss their connecting flight. Though I arrived back in Norman this morning to make my first class with 15 minutes to spare. The turbulence didnt stop all together at that point, there were still many pockets of mod turbulence that threatened to become severe but didnt come as close.

So was wondering, has anyone else been thru such an experience?
Descending into Boston a few years ago (Logan I believe), we passed through some weather. Only minor turbulence at first, but then the aircraft dropped like a stone for about a second. You could feel your stomach rise up as we entered a brief moment of freefall. The drop got a few passengers to scream (like an amusement ride) followed by some wimpering as they calmed down. The rest of the flight was fine except for the minor turbulenc.

Chris how did the other passengers on your flight take the turbulence?
Flew into Amarillo once . It was night time and you would see the lights below then you wouldn't. What a ride, then the baby in the seat behind spewed its meal .... It's never a good sign when they put the drink cart up and the attendants go buckle up and try to look normal.... :roll:
Flying from Birmingham to Las Vegas in 1985 or 1986, we encountered a sudden air pocket over the El Paso region. I was sitting in the rearmost aisle seat, fortunately still strapped in. Behind me, the flight attendant standing in the rear galley/service area slammed head first into the ceiling, then crumbled into the floor after what seemed an inordinately long second in midair. She was stunned. I asked if she was all right, and her professionalism quickly returned and she put on a cheerful face, but we didn't see much of her the rest of the flight.

Dave Gallaher
Huntsville, AL
I'm not so sure about strong to severe turbulence (official definitions), but it was really bad. Worst was going on a short hop from Cincinnati to Columbus, OH. It was in the fall and the low level winds were ripping, I checked some soundings a few days later. I used to live in Salt Lake City and whenever I flew back to New York we would hit bad turbulence ascending over the Wasatch Front.

I have a feeling rating turbulence is like estimating wind speeds. The lay person is really bad at it. While I think I have been in some bad stuff, a seasoned pilot might say that was only light chop. I always heard that the winter time jet over the north Pacific was notorious for bad turbulence.

Which brings me to a point. While turbulence can be very scary, modern planes can take it. Can you name a recent air disaster that resulted from turbulence (excluding that rotor in Colorado Springs and the pilot error in the Airbus leaving from JFK)? The biggest risk from turbulence is to the average passenger not wearing their seat belt. You hit a big bump, the plane drops and you get slammed into the ceiling.
I am not a very experienced flier. On one of the few trips I have been on that involved flying, we were on one of those American Eagle twin props. The flight was in July and was from Corpus Cristie to Dallas. On approach to DFW we flew through a severe thunderstorm core. Kind of a cool experience for a weather buff like myself. When we hit the main updraft everyone, dispite having seat bealts on, came out of there seats by about 6". I have to believe that we droped a few hundred feet in just a matter of seconds. Of coarse after we landed and made our connection we were privledged enough to spend 2 hours on the tarmack. They had suspended take offs during the storm. I think the traffic on the tarmack was probably worse than LBJ at rush hour. I have never in my life seen such a long line of planes.
I've yet to experience the turbulence you speak of in a Commercial Aircraft. However, I've had some interesting experiences in Military Aircraft. Popping between thunderstorms in a Huey at White Sands, was a good one that comes to mind.

Another would be planting a Huey in a Sand Dune at Moss Landing, California. We hit the ground going about 95 kts. Not a fun thing to do. Of course, I used to 6'6" tall too. :)
The absolute worst I can remember was flying from St. Louis to Tulsa to my college buddies wedding on June 2, 1990 (yeah I know I should have been chasing that day). It was a roller coaster ride from start to finish. I was one of the last getting off the plane, and I overhead the pilot saying this was the worst he had ever flown through. He looked like a pretty seasoned SW Airlines pilot so I knew he had probably been through a lot. I remember him getting on the overhead and announcing that as we were flying into the Tulsa flight path that we were in for a tough landing. The plane was bouncing and rolling like we on some kind of wild wave amusement park ride. It was obviously the 60-70 kt. 850 jet that was in action, and no wonder things got nasty later on in the Ohio Valley.
My worst experience was back in the turboprop days on Northeast Airlines. Strong post-cold front turbulence was so bad the pilot himself announced it was the worst he'd ever experienced, and we'd be making an unscheduled stop in Keene, NH, to unload the stewardess who was ralphing in the WC.

The best was yet to come, as our scheduled stop was White River Junction, VT. This airport was later restricted due to several crashes, its mountain studded approach pattern, and its short runway with an overshoot straight down a cliff, across the Interstate, and into the river.

The turbulent jet was coming from about 45 degrees to the runway alignment. As we did the usual 360 pattern to drop between the ridges, Baghdad-style, bouncing around like a ping-pong ball in the lottery machine, I could clearly see the ground out the window seeming to move more sideways than backward. Oy.

As I clutched the armrests, the pilot did a masterful 1-2-3 wheel, cross-controlled landing and used every last foot of the unforgiving runway. All in a day's work, I guess.
Holy mother yes. I thought I was going to bite it on a flight from Phx to Wichita (30-passenger Lear). The pilot flew into a West TX thunderstorm in the afternoon (on a chase day - I knew specific chasers below me who were on the storm in AMA filming it!). There was a loud thump, and the plane lost altitude in a hurry. We dropped like a rock. It felt like hitting a brick wall.

All the drinks hit the ceiling, mine went up in the air and hit the guy in front of me, going down his back. Laptops when up in the air and hit the ceiling. The ceiling was wet and dripping from all the drinks. My cell phone and book, which were on my lap, ended up at the front of the airplane, laying on the floor behind the cockpit door. It was kind of weird to see stuff levitate.

People were holding hands and praying, and some were crying. The man next to me was a corporate demo pilot for a living, he showcased private jets for prospective buyers. Every time he heard a sound he'd say "That ain't right" (which was not very comforting). I held onto his arm. I remember thinking, "there might be a chance that I could be departing this world with this person", so for a brief time we became acquainted.

The pilot on the intercom began to make mistakes in speaking, messing up his words. The flight was then diverted away from the storms, and was late arriving. The passengers deplaned soaked with drinks, retrieving possessions that had gone off to parts unknown within the airplane, and were shaking as they stepped out of the jetway.

Friends met me at the airport, and for awhile when they talked to me, all I would hear was "wah wah wah wah", like the telephone voice on Charlie Brown. That was a very strange feeling, as I don't usually get shaken up too easily. We went to Chinese food and a couple hours later I finally came back to earth.
Unsecured objects are dislodged. Occupants feel definite strains against seat belts and shoulder straps.

Occupants thrown violently against seat belts. Momentary loss of aircraft control. Unsecured objects tossed about.

Aircraft is tossed violently about, impossible to control. May cause structural damage.

official definitions.

severe turblence is rather rare...
Holy mother yes. I thought I was going to bite it on a flight from Phx to Wichita (30-passenger Lear). The pilot flew into a West TX thunderstorm in the afternoon (on a chase day - I knew specific chasers below me who were on the storm in AMA filming it!).

What was the pilot doing, flying into and around supercells in the first place? Every time I've flown, we tended to aviod even a morning MCS. I've heard the updrafts/downdrafts in a supercell can cause extreme turbulence, possibly ripping the plane apart, especially a little LearJet. :shock:

Landing Baghdad style, lol. That can be quite uncomfortable especially in a plane with no windows like a C-130 or a Starlifter. You have no idea how far up you are. I see these planes that land that way, and they appear to be pointing down at a 45 degree angle while banking at a similar angle. The way it feels? Let's just say you feel heavy, then light. The plane dives so fast, that the ears pop quite hard, sometimes causing a lingering pain.

I've only felt moderate turbulence on a short hop flight between Dulles and Raleigh/Durham. I was on my way to Florida, and it was a long flight with two stops. The short hop flight was in the hours between 2pm and 3pm during the month of July. Now everybody knows what occurs on warm July afternoons in the SE US, what the Weather(less) Channel has commonly referred to as "popcorn" or "splash'n'dash" showers and thunderstorms. Since we flew at only about 20K feet, we could feel the cumulus just bubbling up in the afternoon sun. It was a bumpy ride, and I lost my stomach a few times, no ralphing though. :D
What was the pilot doing, flying into and around supercells in the first place?

That was the question of the day! I wondered the exact same thing. He only diverted AFTER the encounter with the thunderstorms. The pilot was very young, he looked like a teenager but I'm sure he was older. I think this was all due to inexperience.

I never want to core-punch in a jet again, that I can assure you.
Yeah, Chris, the eastern CONUS was very bumpy yesterday. I had several MDT-SVR and SVR reports coming across the desk during my shift. My flight chart had MDT painted from GA to ME. The WV imagery told the whole, ragged back edge of the departing trough and intense subsidence. There was also an intense mountain wave over CO and WY, with several SVRs out there as well.

Sometimes those PIREPS are amusing...the pilots that report "spilled my coffee" or "hit head on ceiling," or worse, "lost control of aircraft." That phrase came across the desk with a SVR mountain wave report last week. I guess he re-gained control!


Good day all,

One note: Turbulence is considered "severe" if G-Force variations exceed 1 G (earth gravity) equivalent or more. If 0 G of acceleration (1 G less than normal gravity) is experienced, things WILL hit the cieling of the aircraft (if not stowed or tied down)!

The NOAA hurricane Hunters in 1989 flew into Hurricane Hugo off St Croix and experienced turbulence causing -3.5 G (slamming things into the ceiling of the aircraft) and +6.5 G's! This flexed the wings of the 4-turboprop WP-3 Orion so severely that one of the 4 engines failed.

Fortunately, I have experienced only moderate turbulence at best on a commercial airliner ... Once was a really big "bump" when I was young and returning from Miami, FL to NY (connecting in Atlanta, GA) with my parents. The huge "bump" was somewhere over central FL. This was at the height of El Nino in winter (mid Feb) of 1983. The second was some "roller coaster" like ups and down in July 1997 leaving Panama just after flying out of Panama City. The pilot just simply "punched" right through the convective thunderstorms associated with the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergance Zone) over the Spanish Caribbean area.

I did experience MODERATE turbulenace aboard the NOAA Gulfstream IV flight for hurricane Katrina, but it did not last too long as we were in 5-point harnesses (in addition to NTSB seat belts) and at 45,000 feet over 99% of it.

I DID experience SEVERE turbulence on two skydiving plane flights. One was on a hot and clear day in April 1995 after takeoff in a Pilatus Porter (single engine turboprop, similar to the one in the movies "Air America" and "Drop Zone"). We suddenly hit a hard "positive G effect", where you felt 2 or 3 times your weight (rising thermal?) ... Then, about one-negative earth gravity immediately followed (edge of thermal downdraft?). I looked back and saw EVERYONE, gear, helmets, and all, ON THE CEILING, with NOTHIG on the floor for about 1-2 seconds.

I was the only one in a "seat" with a seat belt (jump seat by the pilot), the other 8 jumpers were on the floor, and removed their belts after takeoff (you can by 1,000 feet). The belt actually left a bruise on my hips and I felt as if I was "upside down" for a second (negative G forces). My helmet also fell UP from my grip and hit the ceiling at that time. After 2 seconds, gravity returned to normal and everyone on the ceiling came crashing back down! No one was hurt seriously, thank God. We continued to 14,500 feet and jumped without incident (just shaken). This could have been the "top of a dust devil"? I did see some DD's that day near the airfield (Clewiston, FL).

The second flight was also aboard the same aircraft, also Clewiston, FL, but about a year later in late March 1996. This day, I remember, had a tornado watch in effect. A building thunderstorm was approaching and we decided to get one last load up for jumping. Upon climbout, which was smooth, we ascended to about 14,500 feet and the storm continued building to our west. We circled a bit to "spot" the aircraft (looking for a space and traffic before jumping). The bottom surface of the thunderstorm anvil then lowered to our altitude, which was now at about 15,000 feet.

I SAW the mammatus. It was rounded protrusions hanging down from where we were and extended below us like smooth women's breasts. Then we flew through one ... Turbulence immediately became obvoius, and once again, I watched my helmet making its way to the ceiling, sort of gently floating, though. Then immediately followed by about 2 G's upon exiting the "breast shape". Then another, same roller coaster effect, people lifting off their butts and floating until one person just "lost it" and told the pilot - "Take us back down - This is BS!!"

We descended (or more accurately, the pilot dove the aircraft) out of the "underside" of the anvil and it smoothed back out, no one jumped, and I was certainly not jumping near a developing T-Storm in a WW! We landed without incident, and then the same thunderstorm rolled through about 20 minutes later with 65-MPH wind gusts and hail up to golfball sized!

Oh, another thing, have some Mike's Hard Lamonade ... It's great after turbulence!

Chris C - KG4PJN
I haven't encountered severe turbulence, but I have encountered some that was pretty bad. On my flight from LAX to DFW on my way back from Melbourne, we crossed a nighttime MCS in west Texas. I remember looking out the window and seeing the light flash from the wing of the plane and then seeing additional strobe-like lights flashing. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out that it was lightning. Then, almost as soon as I figured out that we were flying near a storm (couldn't tell if we were in it or not since it was night), we encountered some pretty heavy turbulence. If I was prone to motion sickness, I probably would have had a problem with it, but it felt more like a wild roller coaster ride to me.

Then on the descent to Pensacola a few weeks ago, I was in one of those small American Eagle jets. As we descenced, we crossed into the frontal boundary (a cold front had come through either the day or night before)and the winds were zipping pretty fast, and the plane was being pushed in different directions rather than being steady. I was starting to fear that we'd hit the runway at a funny angle and crash or something.
Probably the most scarry moments for me were on flights from LAX to parts in the Southern Hemisphere (Tahiti - New Zealand - Australia), everytime we flew over the ITCZ it's a white knuckler.... but what really adds to the fun is that as it gets hectic you realize that there is thousands of miles of big blue deep ocean... no land ... no nearby runways in case of emergency. :shock: can always tell when you cross the ITCZ because it gets to be a bumpy ride! The turbulence wasn't too awful when I crossed it going to and from Australia, but it was definitely enough to wake me up while i was trying to sleep on the plane.
Forgot To Add This One...

Good day guys,

Here's a shot while getting a good "bumpin' around" ...


This was a severe thunderstorm over Orlando, FL being passed by a 737 flying from Burlington, NC to Fort Lauderdale, FL in May of 1996.

The storm here did produce hail, wind damage and a small tornado. The picture here was taken from about 35,000 feet while passing the storm.

Chris Collura - KG4PJN