Unusual Pandemic Casualty: Weather Forecasts

Airplanes that provide meteorological data aren't flying
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2020 2:41 PM CDT
Weather Forecasts Could Suffer in the Pandemic
Several passenger airplanes sit parked at Pinal Airpark in Red Rock, Ariz., on March 18.   (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Last month, the director general of the International Air Transport Association described the coronavirus pandemic as the biggest crisis to ever hit the industry, leaving airlines "with little to do," per Business Insider. One ramification now coming to light is the effect on weather forecasts. As NPR reports, weather forecasters make their predictions based in part on wind, temperature, humidity data collected by thousands of airplanes. The National Weather Service feeds more than 250 million measurements from aircraft each year into its computer models, but with flights grounded, so is the much of the data. The NOAA says data has declined 75% in the US, reports the New York Times, while the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts has reported an 80% drop in its readings.

Though researchers studying the effect on short-term forecasts haven't yet identified a clear impact, the World Meteorological Organization says it's "concerned" about forecasts as it has also seen "a significant decrease in the availability of this type of manual observations." A 2018 study found 70% of US adults view weather data as more important to their daily lives than any other local news topic, per the Washington Post. And according to the ECMWF, removing all aircraft data from weather models reduces accuracy by 15%. But the NOAA doesn't seem too concerned, even with the Atlantic hurricane season approaching. A rep tells NPR that it still gets "valuable aircraft data from overnight cargo and package carriers," to add to the "billions of Earth observations from other sources," including radar and satellites. (More weather stories.)

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