COVID-19's impact on weather models

Published: Apr. 8, 2020 at 9:08 AM CDT
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Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the number of flights across the globe has significantly decreased. A consequence of fewer flights could mean less accurate weather models.

Aircraft data is the second most important source of weather data for weather forecasting next to satellite data.

While in the air, an aircraft is constantly recording weather data like temperature, wind, humidity and pressure.

This program called AMDAR, Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay, collects on average 700,000 observations each day. The on-board sensors, computers and communications systems collect, process and transmit the data to be automatically inserted into the models used to make forecasts.

In recent weeks, the number of observations has declined in part due to the lack of flights.

How does this impact us? Well, typically the more data you add to a model the more accurately it will predict what the atmosphere will do. Fewer observations mean less accurate weather models.

Europe, for example, has seen an 80% reduction in meteorological readings due to flight cancellations. Experts with the European Center For Medium Range Weather Forecasts estimate the EURO could see a 15% reduction in its accuracy.

Meteorologists around the world are aware of the problem and are looking at different ways to mitigate the issue. One of those resolutions could mean launching weather balloons more often than two times per day.

This is only a reduction in forecast model skill and does not mean forecast accuracy will be negatively impacted.

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