The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said it is concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on weather observations and forecasts, as well as atmospheric and climate monitoring.
WMO’s Global Observing System serves as the backbone for all weather and climate services and products provided by the 193 WMO member states to their citizens.
The system provides data for the preparation of weather analyses, forecasts, advisories, and warnings.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, a lack of staffing and an absence of planes in the sky is hampering accurate weather forecasts.
Reduced staff has an impact in some countries, but much of the system in Europe is either partly or fully automated. Still, a possible lack of personnel due to the pandemic could lead to missing repair, maintenance, and supply work.
Less airline traffic due to #COVID19 has reduced the amount of in-flight measurements of temperature & wind.@WMO is concerned about how the scaled-back and lower-quality data could impact weather observations, forecasts & extreme weather warnings. https://t.co/hSIfHe5Yp0 pic.twitter.com/Qo23vpdIPa
— United Nations (@UN) April 1, 2020
However, the lack of staff keeping the system in operation is not the only issue the pandemic could raise.
Some parts of the observation system are already affected by the significant decrease in air traffic.
Commercial airliners contribute to data collection. For example, onboard sensors collect data on temperature, wind speed and direction, and air humidity.
Since air traffic basically stopped due to restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, WMO has reported a significant decrease in this key data.
Particularly in Europe, the decrease over the last couple of weeks has been dramatic, the WMO says.
While the European weather services usually produces over 700,000 observations per day, the number of data points has recently decreased to several thousand a day.
In most developed countries, surface-based weather observations are almost fully automated.
On the other hand, in many developing countries, the meteorologists still rely on data collected manually by weather observers. The WMO has recently seen this type of data decreasing, too.
European countries are now discussing ways to boost the short-term capabilities of their observation networks to mitigate the loss of aircraft observations.
“At the present time, the adverse impact of the loss of observations on the quality of weather forecast products is still expected to be relatively modest. However, as the decrease in availability of aircraft weather observations continues and expands, we may expect a gradual decrease in reliability of the forecasts,” said Lars Peter Riishojgaard, the director of the Earth System Branch in WMO’s infrastructure department.