How COVID-19 Is Hurting Global Weather Predictions
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, its impact is being felt in surprising and unexpected areas. Case in point: our ability to accurately predict the weather is taking a serious hit – and just in time for hurricane season.
One lesser-known function of global air traffic is how it collects weather data. Thousands of airliners and cargo planes gather and transmit data – such as wind speed and direction, air pressure, temperature, and humidity – to improve forecasts around the world. The National Weather Service’s Global Forecast System in the United States and the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecast are among the organizations that use this data to make their forecasting models more accurate.
But due to the pandemic, a huge number of flights have been grounded, and the data flow has been greatly reduced. In the U.S. alone, 3,162 planes have been idled – about 51% of the total fleet. As a result, meteorologists are unsure of what observations they may be missing. But the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization raised the alarm, estimating that global measurements had fallen by an average of 75-80%.
This data loss has come at potentially the worst time of year, during an expected above-average Atlantic hurricane season. And without reliable information, there’s only so much any organization can prepare.