Coronavirus Outbreak: Weather Forecasts To Become Less Accurate

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The sudden dropoff in passenger air traffic across the world in response to the coronavirus threat will likely have an impact on the computer models that guide day-to-day weather forecasting.

It seems like the coronavirus (COVID-19) is impacting every aspect of life these days, from work and school to eating out and travel. When it comes to travel by air a significant number of airlines have grounded flights worldwide due to low demand.

Experts have found this has led to a severe decrease in aircraft-based observations, which help with weather predictions.
Weather data collected by aircrafts are crucial in forecast models that control daily weather predictions. Aircraft-based observations also help in greatly reducing errors in weather forecasts.

There has been a 42% reduction between March 1 to 23 in the number of aircraft reports received all over the world, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) said.

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A graph showing the number of weather reports gathered by aircraft flying over Europe between March 3-23.(credit: ECMWF)

While it is unclear exactly how this lack of weather data may impact the skill of various computer models to predict future weather, what is clear is we are facing a decreased amount of airplanes flying for several weeks to come as various global economies struggle to get back on track. The lack of upper air observations could lower the forecasting skill of many computer models well into the summer. It’s just one of the many unknowns that we face as the world deals with COVID-19.

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