What Do Pilots Use to Detect Turbulence?

iStock.com/Maravic
iStock.com/Maravic

by Joe Shelton

I think the concept of "turbulence" has gotten a bad reputation.

Just like the wind, turbulence isn't an on or off thing; it's a spectrum.

Step outside one day and a light breeze might be hard to feel, while the next day you might have trouble holding onto your hat because the wind is so strong. But most of the time it's somewhere in between those extremes.

Turbulence is exactly the same. Some days, some places, nothing. Some days it can rattle your teeth (or turn your stomach). But most of the time when turbulence exists, it is light or at worst case slightly annoying.

How do pilots detect turbulence?

Weather forecasts provide estimates when there might be turbulence. The thing to remember is the noun forecast: It's not a guarantee that it will be turbulent, nor is the lack of mention of turbulence in a forecast a guarantee that there won't be turbulence.

In addition, turbulence can be widespread as well as very localized.

I typically detect or expect serious or widespread turbulence as well as local turbulence in one of three of ways:

  • Cumulus clouds: If the clouds are tall and vertical and/or getting taller, then there is a good chance there is turbulence around. The taller the clouds and the faster they are growing, the worse the probable turbulence. Especially in the clouds. The worst example of that would be a thunderstorm. The turbulence within a thunderstorm can tear an aircraft apart.
  • Hot days: Also known as convection, warm and especially hot days mean that the hot air is rising and the reciprocal, cold air is descending. That's a recipe for turbulence. Depending upon the temperature and the aircraft's altitude the turbulence can be irritating or it can be very uncomfortable.
  • Wind: Wind can "tumble," especially downwind of mountains—often for many miles downwind—and it can even be turbulent over mountains, as winds are encouraged to rise following the upwind mountain side.

With very few exceptions, for the most part turbulence isn't dangerous. At least to aircraft. Pilots know how to manage turbulence, often simply by slowing the aircraft's airspeed and/or changing altitude.

However, clear-air turbulence (CAT)—severe turbulence that happens in what otherwise seems to be calm, clear air—can cause injuries to passengers who aren't wearing seat belts or, worse, are walking. And CAT is very difficult to detect until you experience it.

(By the way, clear-air turbulence got its name because although turbulence is often accompanied by clouds, this particular form isn't. Hence the name.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

How Accurate Are Punxsutawney Phil's Groundhog Day Weather Predictions?

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

On Sunday, February 2, people all across the country will tune in to the biggest spectacle of the season. That’s right—this weekend, Punxsutawney Phil will crawl forth from his tiny tree trunk abode and tell us whether or not to expect six more weeks of winter.

Considering that the legendary groundhog has been predicting the weather since the first Groundhog Day in 1887, it seems safe to assume that he’s gotten pretty good at it by now. The stats, however, indicate that practice doesn’t always make perfect when it comes to mid-sized meteorological rodents. As Live Science reports, the Groundhog Club’s records show that Phil has predicted more winter 103 times, and an early spring just 19. Based on data from the Stormfax Almanac, that means Phil’s accuracy rate is an abysmal 39 percent.

If you only look at weather records dating back to 1969, which are more reliable than earlier accounts, Phil’s job performance review gets even worse: those predictions were correct only 36 percent of the time.

Almost starting to feel sorry for an apparently lousy employee who only has to work for a few minutes each year? According to meteorologist Tim Roche at Weather Underground, Punxsutawney Phil is much more successful when he doesn’t see his shadow.

“Out of the 15 times that he didn’t see his shadow and predicted an early spring, he got it right seven times,” Roche told Live Science. “That’s a 47 percent accuracy rate.”

While Phil is far from infallible, human meteorologists are, too. As National Weather Service meteorologist David Unger told Live Science, “If our forecasts are about 60 percent accurate or higher, then we consider that to be a good estimate.”

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What's the Difference Between a Real Estate Agent and a Realtor?

Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images
Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images

It’s time to buy or sell a house. You jump online to find a representative who can help you navigate the world of real estate. Some identify as a real estate agent, others are Realtors. (And yes, that’s capitalized. More on that in a moment.) Both list houses for sale and guide buyers through the acquisition process.

Unfortunately, those home-buying catalogs and online listings don’t explain the difference between the two job titles, or the reasons you might want to opt for one over the other. If you’re in the market for a new home, here’s an easy way to understand these two major categories of real estate experts.

A real estate agent is an individual who has been granted a state license to conduct business relating to the purchase, sale, or rental of property. That license is given after the person completes a training course, but the content and duration of that education can vary widely by state. California, for example, requires 135 hours of training, over double that of Virginia (which mandates 60 hours). After passing a written test on both federal and state real estate laws and principles, applicants become licensed to practice as an agent. As of 2018, there were roughly 2 million agents in the United States helping to close deals on 5.34 million existing homes being sold.

A Realtor is a real estate agent of a different stripe. The trademarked term belongs to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a trade organization founded in 1908. It indicates an agent who has become a member of that organization, has received ethics training, and has agreed to be bound by the group’s code of ethics. Put simply, the code mandates that Realtors perform their duties while putting their client’s interest above their own and avoid exaggeration when describing property characteristics, among other pledges.

“Every Realtor adheres to a strict code of ethics based on professionalism, consumer protection, and the golden rule,” Mantill Williams, vice president of public relations and communication strategy for NAR, tells Mental Floss. “NAR’s Code of Ethics, adopted in 1913, was one of the first codifications of ethical duties adopted by any business group. By becoming a member, you agree to uphold and are held accountable to this code of ethics, which includes obligations to clients, the public, and fellow Realtors.

“For example: When representing a buyer, seller, landlord, tenant, or other client as an agent, Realtors pledge themselves to protect and promote the interests of their client. This obligation to the client is primary, but it does not relieve Realtors of their obligation to treat all parties honestly.”

As of July 2019, there were approximately 1.4 million Realtors practicing in the United States and paying the $150 in dues to NAR annually. While nearly two-thirds are also real estate agents, some are brokers, who took a broker’s license exam after completing training on topics relating to legal issues, taxes, and insurance. Brokers typically need to have been working as a real estate agent for three years before obtaining a broker’s license. One can, of course, be a broker without being a Realtor.

So what does all this mean for you, the consumer? Real estate agents who become Realtors might swear by a Code of Ethics, but is it enforceable? If NAR receives complaints that a member is misrepresenting listings, the violation could lead to their dismissal from the group. An agent, meanwhile, might lose their license only if a crime has been committed. Naturally, any sales agent can perform their duties ethically, but a Realtor is likely to face more accountability—and the consumer more avenues for complaint—if a sale is handled improperly.

Does that mean all Realtors are automatically superior to agents? Not necessarily. Some agents may have more experience than a Realtor or might specialize in one area that fits your needs, like commercial real estate. When choosing a real estate professional, it's a good idea to get recommendations from friends and associates. You can also search for Realtors who have a focus on special consumer groups like military personnel.

While Realtors have a high rate of customer satisfaction—90 percent of homebuyers would recommend their Realtor, according to NAR—it’s best to take time and make a careful choice. Buying a home, after all, is the most expensive thing any of us are ever likely to do.

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