Turbulence has many causes - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Turbulence has many causes

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According to the FAA, 329 people were injured due to turbulence between 2002 and 2011. (Source: CNN) According to the FAA, 329 people were injured due to turbulence between 2002 and 2011. (Source: CNN)

(KULR/CNN) - Nothing could have prepared the passengers on United Flight 1676 for a nightmare at 34,000 feet, high above the Rocky Mountains.

"There was a lady behind me that was yelling, ‘My baby, my baby,' so I could just assume she had an infant in her arms and let go of it," United passenger Kerri Mullins said.

The plane, carrying 114 passengers and five crew members, encountered severe turbulence so strong it plunged.

"It was instantaneous," Mullins said. "Everything that everybody had in their hands was flying through the air. People were screaming."

According to the latest numbers from the FAA, 329 people were injured due to turbulence between 2002 and 2011.

So what's the science behind turbulence? And is there anything anyone can do to avoid it?

"Air flows just as water does. It can flow smoothly or it can have interruptions in that flow, and can be caused by mountains, by thunderstorms, or passing of fronts, or can be just a small localized area which is called clear air turbulence," aviation expert Dan Hargrove said.

The United flight was flying over the Rocky Mountains, a common spot for what's called mountain wave turbulence.

"The turbulence caused by those mountains can reach well above the height of the mountains themselves and cause the air to tumble and roll and create turbulence," Hargrove said.

Turbulence can also be triggered by thunderstorms, even when the skies are clear.

"Convective turbulence is caused by rising hot air and is typical in the summertime when the ground is warm and hot air is rising," Hargrove said.

"Turbulence is very erratic, very spotty, so it could be that if they were at this very same location, even 10 minutes later, it may not have been a severe event," said Bob Sharman of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

But that doesn't change things for the passengers of United Flight 1676, who had a flight they will never forget.

Copyright 2014 KULR via CNN. All rights reserved.