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COVID-19 and weather forecasts

WMO is concerned about impacts from the pandemic.
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Posted at 8:11 AM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 10:05:53-04

The coronavirus has impacted almost every part of our daily life. The pandemic may even affect weather forecasting capabilities. The World Meteorological Society (WMO) released a statement on Thursday expressing their concern about the impact of COVID-19 on the quantity and quality of weather observations and forecasts, as well as other atmospheric and climate monitoring.

The WMO's Global Observing System, which is composed of meteorological and research satellites, manned and automatic surface weather stations, upper-air observations, ships, buoys, weather radars, and specially equipped commercial aircraft, is the backbone for all weather and climate services. The data is used to prepare weather analyses, forecasts, and advisories and warnings.

WMO's Secretary-General Petteri Taalas says essential functions continue to operate despite challenges from the global coronavirus pandemic. However, Mr. Taalas urges governments to pay attention to their nation's weather observing capacities. Most of the observation system, like satellites and ground-based networks, are either partly or fully automated. As this pandemic drags on, limited regular maintenance, repairs, and supply work will increase concerns.

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Automated weather observations are done in most developed countries. But in the developing world, manual weather observations are still made. These observations provide an important baseline for global weather and climate models. WMO has seen a significant decrease in the number of these manual observations over the last two weeks. Countries shaded in darker colors on the map above have provided fewer observations over the last week than the average for January 2020 (pre-COVID.) WMO is investigating factors, including the COVID-19 situation.

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Commercial airlines are another important piece of the puzzle. In-flight measurements of ambient temperatures, wind speed and direction are very important for weather predictions. This data is compiled by the Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay (AMDAR) program. AMDAR traditionally produces 700,000 observations per day. Over recent weeks there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of measurements, especially across Europe, due to a decrease in air traffic.

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Tracking website Flightradar24.com estimates that domestic air traffic has fallen 40% since the start of March. This means we are getting fewer air temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity, and turbulence measurements.

Lars Peter Riishojgaard, Director of the Earth System Branch in WMO's Infrastructure Department, said at this time "the adverse impact of the loss of observations on the quality of weather forecast products is still expected to be relatively modest." If the availability of ground and aircraft weather observations continues to decrease, then we may expect a gradual decrease in the reliability of the forecast models. So what does this mean for you? Well, with fewer data points going into the algorithm for weather forecasting models, forecast specifics can change. That's just another reason why you'll want to rely on the StormTracker Weather team. You can count us to shift through the weather data and give you the most accurate forecast, like we always do.