How COVID-19 is Influencing Weather Forecasts

It seems as though nothing has been left untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, it can even be said that the virus is influencing our weather – or, in other words, how well scientists can predict it.

How COVID-19 is Influencing Weather Forecasts

Image Credit: OTT HydroMet

For over two years, COVID-19 has disrupted every single aspect of our wider society, with the economy and the health system reeling between states of emergency and periods of calm. Now, it seems that the virus is even influencing the world’s weather – impacting how well scientists can assess the likely weather patterns in the coming days and weeks.

Many parameters, including temperature, wind, air pressure and humidity – define the weather. Meteorologists use data from a wide variety of sources to make predictions as accurate as possible. One of these much-relied-upon sources is aircraft.

Typically, passenger airliners are equipped with a multitude of sensors that provide valuable measurement data over a flight’s journey.

Due to fluctuating travel restrictions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, however, air traffic figures dropped dramatically and still remain far below pre-COVID levels. Some airlines, such as the German airline Lufthansa, were forced to cancel 95% of their flights at the virus’ peak, with many smaller carriers completely grounded as the pandemic continued to spread.

The Global Measurement Network’s Missing Links

This change meant that many meteorologists lost a significant source of data. On 1st April 2020, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) emphasized this in a statement, which underlined that around the world, approximately 3000 aircraft are equipped with special sensors to assist in the collection and transmission of weather data during their daily flight operations.

This means that they are part of a global network of surface weather stations, including buoys, weather balloons, ships, satellites and more.

Global measurement network.

Global measurement network. Source: WMO

Impact on Forecast Quality

Meteorologists could, in the short term, compensate for the loss of a data source with other observations. For instance, the National Weather Service of the Netherlands (KNMI) was able to compensate for the missing aircraft measurements with the use of 21 additional weather balloons.

A similar approach was taken over a decade ago when the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull restricted air traffic over the Atlantic for weeks as dense ash clouds spread into the atmosphere.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the WMO stated that they expected only a modest reduction in forecast quality. However, the longer period for which global aviation was grounded and the significant decrease overall means that the reliability of our weather forecasts could yet suffer, says the WMO.

Of course, the lack of aircraft measurements is not the only problem. Many organizations have postponed fieldwork and switched to remote working where possible, as social distancing measures worldwide have continued to restrict meetings.

In March 2020, for instance, the German Weather Service (DWD) was forced to send 750 of its 2300 employees to home offices.

A Future of Automatic Weather Observation?

This lack of maintenance of vital weather stations could become a more significant problem in the medium term, according to meteorologist and Sales Engineer at OTT HydroMet, Brad Guay.

The ongoing COVID 19 pandemic is affecting meteorological observations around the world. Scientists, engineers, and technicians are forced to stay at home.

Brad Guay, Meteorologist and Sales Engineer, OTT HydroMet

The importance of automated weather observations to protect life, infrastructure and the environment in the event of severe weather has been emphasized by experts like Guay and his colleagues.

Our goal at OTT HydroMet is to provide solutions that continuously deliver accurate and reliable data with minimal maintenance, even from the most remote locations in the world.

Brad Guay, Meteorologist and Sales Engineer, OTT HydroMet

To learn more about meteorological instruments and modern measuring methods, visit HydroMet’s product portfolio, where there are descriptions of the company’s proven weather sensors sorted by category, application area and measuring method.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by OTT HydroMet.

For more information on this source, please visit OTT HydroMet.


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