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This Week in Paragliding: Detecting Turbulence on the SkewT Chart

A SkewT chart is a tool used in atmospheric science to provide a vertical profile of temperature, dew point, and atmospheric stability. While a SkewT chart does not directly provide information about turbulence, it can help you identify areas of the atmosphere that may be conducive to turbulence. Here are some steps to follow when using a SkewT chart to detect turbulence:


Look for signs of atmospheric instability:


Turbulence is often associated with unstable atmospheric conditions. A SkewT chart can help you identify areas of instability by comparing the temperature and dew point profiles. If the ambient temperature decreases faster than the DALR or MALR as altitude increases, the atmosphere is considered unstable. The greater the difference between the ambient temperature and DALR or MALR, the more unstable the atmosphere.


Look for areas of vertical wind shear:


Vertical wind shear, or a change in wind speed or direction with altitude, can also be a sign of turbulence. A SkewT chart can help you identify areas of vertical wind shear by looking at the wind barbs. Wind barbs point in the direction that the wind is coming from and the length of the barb indicates the wind speed. If the wind barbs are longer at higher altitudes than at lower altitudes, this can indicate vertical wind shear, which may lead to turbulence.


Look for signs of convection:


Convection, or the upward movement of warm air and downward movement of cold air, is another factor that can contribute to turbulence. A SkewT chart can help you identify areas of convection by looking for a steep temperature gradient in the lower levels of the atmosphere, which can indicate the presence of a boundary layer. This boundary layer can lead to turbulence as the warm air rises and mixes with cooler air.


Consider other factors:


While a SkewT chart can be a useful tool for identifying areas of the atmosphere that may be conducive to turbulence, it is important to consider other factors as well, such as weather reports, pilot reports, and ground observations. Be sure to use all available resources when assessing the potential for turbulence before taking off.


Turbulence can significantly increase the risk of paragliding, as it can cause sudden and unexpected changes in the flight path of a paraglider. Turbulence is characterized by irregular and often violent movements of the air, which can be caused by a variety of factors such as atmospheric instability, vertical wind shear, or the presence of obstacles such as buildings or mountains.


Here are some specific ways in which turbulence can affect the risk of paragliding:

  1. Loss of control: Turbulence can cause sudden and unpredictable changes in the flight path of a paraglider, making it difficult for the pilot to maintain control. This can lead to loss of control, which may result in a crash.

  2. Injury: Turbulence can cause a paraglider to experience sudden and forceful movements, which can result in injury to the pilot or passengers. For example, turbulence can cause a paraglider to be thrown against the harness or the frame of the glider, resulting in bruises, cuts, or even broken bones.

  3. Equipment damage: Turbulence can put significant stress on the paragliding equipment, including the canopy, lines, and harness. If the equipment is not able to withstand the turbulence, it may become damaged, which can lead to a malfunction or failure of the equipment.

  4. Difficulty in launching and landing: Turbulence can make it difficult to launch and land a paraglider safely. If the turbulence is severe, it can cause the paraglider to be thrown off course or pushed off course with sudden heading changes and loss of altitude making it difficult for the pilot to land in a safe and controlled manner.

  5. Exposure to other hazards: Turbulence can increase the risk of exposure to other hazards, such as high winds, thunderstorms, or downdrafts. These hazards can further increase the risk of injury or equipment damage.

In summary, turbulence can significantly increase the risk of paragliding by causing loss of control, injury, equipment damage, difficulty in landing, and exposure to other hazards.


Paraglider pilots should always assess the potential for turbulence before taking off and take appropriate measures to minimize the risk, such as avoiding turbulent areas or flying at a lower altitude. Additionally, paragliders should always wear appropriate safety gear and have a thorough understanding of the equipment and its limitations.

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