Why the Covid-19 Related Drop in Air Travel Could Make Weather Forecasts Less Accurate

Illustration to article entitled Why the Covid-19 related drop in air travel could make weather forecasts less accurate

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Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone cancel their flights. To prevent the spread of the virus, countries maintain strict travel bans and encourage social distance, meaning air travel is not necessary unless absolutely necessary. Airlines are getting huge hits: Southwest planes are common 20 per cent full, the CEO of Delta said Demand is dropping “unlike anything we’ve seen”, and the low-cost British airline EasyJet has canceled all service.

The drop in flights may have an effect that goes beyond the profits of the aviation sector. It can interfere with scientists’ ability to make weather forecasts.

Airplanes continuously send data to forecast centers. In general, aircraft can transmit at maximum 230,000 weather observations per day, which provides the only regular view of the higher atmosphere. The data they collect about barometric pressure, temperature, cloud height and more is a critical part of the weather forecast. Studies show that these aircraft observations have reduced errors in six-hour weather forecasts for meteorologists by 15 to 30 percent.

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In a press release, the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), has raised the alarm about what loss of flight data – which he says is second for satellite data in terms of forecast value. The center runs the euro, one of the best (if not the best) weather models in the world. Without the data to power it, forecasters essentially fly with blinkers.

From March 3 to March 23, the institution said they received 65 fewer reports of planes flying over Europe and 42 percent fewer reports of planes from around the world. They say data from recently installed satellites will help mitigate the drop in aircraft sightings, but as the covid-19 pandemic continues, fewer planes can fly, which could impact forecasts around the world.

The U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) says it is not yet possible to quantify the exact impact of this reduction. The agency has a rival weather model known as the GFS.

“The decrease only occurs on certain flights and routes, and while there is a decrease in commercial passenger flights, we are still receiving valuable aircraft data from night freight and package carriers,” said Susan Buchanan, director of public affairs for the National Weather Service , Later in an email, noting that this doesn’t necessarily make meteorologists’ forecast less accurate. “While the automated weather reports from commercial aircraft provide exceptionally valuable data for forecast models, we also collect billions of Earth observations from other sources that feed our models, such as weather balloons, surface weather observation network, radar, satellites and buoys.”

The service will soon have access to data from a new one satellite zodiac sign that can further help close the gap. But in ECMWF’s press release, information specialist Christopher Hill of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (who oversees NWS) did not seem so sure.

“We anticipate the significant reduction in AMDAR availability in the US.[Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay] data will continue in the coming weeks, which is likely to have some impact on the output of our numerical weather forecast systems, ”he said.


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