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How Coronavirus Could Be Impacting Weather Forecasts

An inaccurate forecast could be linked to the coronavirus pandemic

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Have you noticed the forecast not always being accurate or changing frequently?

Monday NBC 5 Weather Experts forecasted a dry Memorial Day and today it is looking wet. Meteorology is not an exact science, but part of the inaccuracy could be linked to the coronavirus.

Real time weather observations are fed into computer models. The more data, the better the forecasts. The drop in airline travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic has reduced the amount of data commercial airplanes are collecting. Airplanes get temperature, wind, pressure and humidity readings during flight by sensors on the planes. We can still collect data from satellites and weather balloons to help fill the gaps, but certain aircraft data is irreplaceable. Planes fly at all times of day and change altitudes over areas that don’t normally collect weather observations.

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The National Weather Service, along with international agencies and private companies use weather information from aircraft to feed the computer models that meteorologist use on a daily basis. This includes the Global Forecast System, or GFS model in the United States and the European model, run by the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). You have probably heard the NBC 5 Weather Experts talk about both of these models.

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NBC 5 Weather

Ocean measurements and research centers are also not collecting the amount data they usually do which is also limiting long range climate studies.

At this point we do not know exactly how much of an impact the lack of data is having on forecast model accuracy. As meteorologists we still put together forecasts using a variety of skill sets and look are several sources for data and forecast guidance.

In order to figure out the impact of missing data a controlled experiment would have to be run. The experiment would have to involve a forecast model with a full data set and one with missing data during the same time period. That may never happen and we do not know yet when all data will return, or if it ever will.

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