How coronavirus is affecting the weather forecast

Tracking weather by land, air and sea

HOUSTON – I’ve written before about the role of airplanes taking and reporting weather observations as they ascend and descend, as well as at flight altitude. Known as the AMDAR program, these commercial aircraft flights traditionally produce 700,000 observations a day (temperature, humidity, and wind).

Of course, now many are grounded and so those observations aren’t being fed into the computer models for forecasting. You can see the downward trend since the beginning of March:

Lack of AMDAR readings, from the World Meteorological Organization

And in a recent press release, the WMO (World Meteorological Organization) notes that while most developed countries have automatic surface-weather observation equipment, not all countries do. With stay home orders around the globe, there are weather offices with no weather person to physically read and report the data!

Here’s a look below. The darker colored countries have been providing less data while those in black have provided none:

(Map provided by WMO; countries shown in darker colors provided fewer observations over the last week than averaged for the month of January 2020 (pre-COVID-19); countries shown in black are currently not sending any data at all).

In addition, the WMO notes that over time even automatic stations will need repair and calibration, so we may see more data dropping out in the next weeks or months. Still, and thankfully, there are a LOT of ways to observe the weather these days. As the WMO press release notes, “currently, there are 16 meteorological and 50 research satellites, over 10000 manned and automatic surface weather stations, 1000 upper-air stations, 7000 ships, 100 moored and 1000 drifting buoys, hundreds of weather radars and 3000 specially equipped commercial aircraft measure key parameters of the atmosphere, land and ocean surface every day.”

Have a safe day and wash those hands!


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About the Author:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.