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Mountain Wave Turbulence: Where You'll Find It In Flight

Where you'll find mountain waves comes down to the shape of the terrain and the velocity of the winds. If you're going flying in the mountains, be sure to know what areas may be hotspots for mountain wave turbulence.

1) The downwind side of a mountain barrier.

As winter approaches and the jet stream moves south, fast-moving core winds get propelled over the western mountain ranges, increasing cross-barrier flow.

The downwind side of the mountain ridges will create a gravity wave with the greatest amplitude and energy. The faster the jet core, the more intense the turbulence will be, decreasing your chances of a fun day of mountain flying. The further from the ridge you are, the less severe the turbulence is.


2) Downwind of bowl-shaped terrain.

What's worse than a perfectly aligned mountain ridge? Mountains that create a bowl, like the Sangre de Cristo mountain range near Alamosa, CO.

As fast-moving jet stream air crosses over the peaks to the west, they funnel into the bowl, focusing and increasing the intensity of the wind. While this can occur anywhere with bowl-shaped terrain, this region is a perfect place to witness this.

As an airline pilot, I've crossed this range many times departing from Grand Junction, CO (KGJT). Some days you'll find yourself in moderate turbulence for upwards of 15 minutes as you transition to the southeast...and that's from the surface all the way up into the flight levels.


Have you ever encountered mountain wave turbulence? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Learn how to evaluate mountain weather for less than the cost of a cross-country flight.

It's easy to think that mountain weather only happens in places like the Rockies. But the hills of Eastern Ohio can produce the same types of weather, especially in the summer. And if you've ever flown near the Appalachians, you probably experienced mountain weather, even if you didn't realize it was happening.

Whether you're flying on the East Coast, the Coastal Ranges of California, or any of the rough terrain in between, Boldmethod's Mountain Weather course makes you confident and comfortable flying around the mountains.

You'll learn how to evaluate mountain weather during your planning and while you're in flight. You'll also learn how terrain generates updrafts, downdrafts, turbulence, and storms, and changes the direction of the wind throughout the day.

Plus, for less than the cost of a cross-country flight, you get lifetime access to tools that increase your confidence and make your flights more fun.

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Corey Komarec

Corey is an Airbus 320 First Officer for a U.S. Major Airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota, and he's been flying since he was 16. You can reach him at

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