Meteorology: Signs in a Clear Sky

It strikes with the swift, clawed fury of a pouncing cat—and jet pilots call it by that name. CAT (for clear air turbulence) can swat a jetliner down a mile in a minute flat, paste passengers to the ceiling, and rip the wings from light planes. Many CAT victims go uncounted because up to now CAT has been invisible.

Clear air turbulence often occurs where two air masses, moving in opposite directions, grind together. Unlike storm fronts, which present a large, moist target for regular storm-tracking radars, this abrupt change of wind direction,...

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