Coronavirus Could Disrupt Weather Forecasting ~ The Washington Post

The amount of atmospheric data routinely gathered by commercial airliners has dropped sharply as a result of the coronavirus, the World Meteorological Organization announced.

Credit…Frank Rumpenhorst/picture alliance, via Getty Images

The drop in airline travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic has sharply reduced the amount of atmospheric data routinely gathered by commercial airliners, the World Meteorological Organization said Thursday, adding that it was “concerned about the increasing impact” on weather forecasts worldwide.

The agency said data on temperature, wind and humidity from airplane flights, collected by sensors on the planes and transmitted in real time to forecasting organizations around the world, has been cut by nearly 90 percent in some regions.

In the United States data declined by 75 percent during the pandemic, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Under the observational program, established in the 1960s, data from 3,500 aircraft operated by Delta, United, American and Southwest, and by the cargo carriers United Parcel Service and FedEx, is transmitted directly to National Weather Service forecasting operations.

Christopher Vaccaro, a NOAA spokesman, said the decline “does not necessarily translate into a reduction in forecast accuracy since National Weather Service meteorologists use an entire suite of observations and guidance to produce an actual forecast.” That includes data from satellites, radar and other land- and sea-based instruments and radiosondes, small instruments that are launched into the upper atmosphere on a daily schedule and provide data as they descend.

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