Wrong, CBS News, Airplane Turbulence has Nothing to Do With Climate Change

Recently, Fox News rightly called out CBS News for making a preposterous claim about the air turbulence passengers regularly experience on airliners. After a  video surfaced of terrifying moments of turbulence experienced on a flight from Phoenix to Hawaii, CBS News posted a story on December 19, 2022, titled “Here’s what causes airplane turbulence — and how to stay safe on a rough flight.

In that story, CBS News posted this quote:

Severe weather increases chances of turbulence, and due to climate change, these kinds of incidents will only continue to grow,” Taylor Garland, spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants, told CBS News.

Garland said that the instances of turbulence that led to injuries this summer may have been weather related.

That claimed linkage between climate change, severe weather, and increased air turbulence has no factual basis.

CBS News even Tweeted  concerning the false link between climate change and turbulence, gathering more than 177,000 views.

Previously, Climate Realism took CNN to task on the same claim in the story CNN Falsely Claims Airline Turbulence Will Increase due to Climate Change.

As Climate Realism noted at the time, a 2021 report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) plotted accident data related to turbulence, finding no statistically significant increase since 1989, despite a tremendous increase in passengers and miles flown. See Figure 1 below:

Figure1: This graph shows the turbulence and non-turbulence-related Part 121 accidents in the U.S. from 1989 to 2018. Graph by National Transportation Safety Board.

If in fact turbulence had increased due to climate change as CNN, CBS, and the Association of Flight Attendants spokesperson claims, there would be a clear upward trend demonstrated in the graph. Instead, the values of turbulence related aircraft accidents have held steady since about 1995 as seen in Figure 1.

The ICAO accident graph agrees with what was found in Climate at a Glance: Deaths from Extreme Weather. From that publication comes these facts:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AR6 report, Chapter 11, Weather and Climate Extreme Events in a Changing Climate, concludes that changes in the frequency and intensity of most severe weather events have not been detected nor can they be attributed to human caused climate change.

Real world data shows that there has been no increase in drought, or heatwaves; no increase in flooding; no increase in tropical cyclones and hurricanes; no increase in winter storms; and no increase in thunderstorms or tornadoes, or associated hail, lightning, and extreme winds from thunderstorms.

Bottom line: data from the ICAO, the authority on global civil aviation, does not support Garland’s or CBS News’ claim that climate change is producing more flight turbulence. In addition, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has not indicated atmospheric turbulence is increasing.

Gina Martinez, the writer of CBS News’ false story, failed to do even a little basic research on turbulence numbers. Had she, or the editors who approved her story for publication, done so, they would have found that neither turbulence nor injuries due to in-flight turbulence have been increasing. Instead, Martinez quoted a non-scientist spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants as the basis for the assertion that turbulence is increasing due to climate change. Readily available facts refute that claim.

CBS News compounded its error, by converting that baseless claim from Garland into a headline tweeted around the world.

This is sadly indicative of the shoddy state of journalism today where beliefs about climate change trump easily accessible facts. Both CBS News and the Association of Flight Attendants deserve derision for misleading the public.

Anthony Watts
Anthony Watts
Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website wattsupwiththat.com.

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