By Chris Spears


DENVER (CBS4) – 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. It turns out this may impact weather forecasts for weeks to come.

When making a weather forecast meteorologists heavily rely on various computer models to predict the future. Each computer model develops a skill as to how well it handles predictions. They also develop a skill when it comes to forecast complications, such as the complex terrain in Colorado.

Weather balloons are the backbone of upper air observations that feed computer forecast models but they are only released every 12 hours from about 900 designated points around the world. In between launches models rely on real-time information provided by other sources including satellites and airplanes.

The National Weather Service launches weather balloons from Boulder daily to help forecast weather across the country. (credit: CBS)

With COVID-19 reducing the number of planes flying each day there has been a large decrease in the amount of real-time information available about our atmosphere. The graph below shows the amount of weather data gathered over Europe between March 3 and March 23 fell by roughly 65 percent. Globally the decline in weather data gathered by airplanes was about 42 percent during the same period according to a press release from ECMWF, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

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.

(credit: CBS)

Chris Spears

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