Are Weather Forecasts Less Accurate During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

July 22, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has affected the world in a variety of ways, creating devastating effects on things like public health and the global economy.

But one unexpected outcome of the world coming to a standstill due to COVID-19 has been a decrease in accuracy for weather forecasts.

A new study out of Lancaster University’s Environment Centre in England found that from March to May of 2020 there was a marked decrease in the “accuracy of surface meteorology forecast.”

Forecasts are created based on data points collected around the world, and those data points come from a diverse array of tools like satellites, weather balloons, and radar, reports CNN. But they also come from aircraft and cruise ships, and because of the extreme drop in travel around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are now fewer data points that researchers can use to generate weather forecasts.

The data collected above bodies of water is especially limited by the decrease in travel, making hurricane forecasts especially susceptible to a drop in accuracy.

Dr. Ying Chen, the senior research associate behind the study, says “further worsening of weather forecasts may be expected and that the error could become larger for longer-term forecasts. This could handicap early warning of extreme weather and cause additional hardship for daily life in the near future."

However, there are ways to counteract the pandemic’s effects on data loss. Kyle Theim, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, explains that when a high impact weather event, like a hurricane or tornado is expected, the NWS will “conduct ‘special’ weather balloon launches to take additional weather measurements in the upper levels of the atmosphere.”

By combining additional balloon launches with surveillance missions, or special flights to gather weather data, researchers are able to bridge the gap needed to create more accurate forecasts.

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