The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the quantity and quality of weather observations and forecasts, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
According to the WMO, the coronavirus lockdown means meteorological measurements taken from aircraft have “plummeted” by up to 80% in some regions, and closer to 90% in the southern hemisphere.
Surface-based observations are also in decline, “especially in Africa and parts of Central and South America where many stations are manual rather than automatic” it added.
“As we approach the Atlantic hurricane season, the COVID-19 pandemic poses an additional challenge, and may exacerbate multi-hazard risks at a single country level,” warned WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas.
While large parts of the observation systems which keep a check on the weather are automated to a degree, there is a fear if the pandemic is prolonged then they will miss out on crucial repair work.
A significant part of the WMO’s data comes from commercial airlines, which use their own sensors, computers and communications systems to automatically collect and process meteorological observations to ground stations via satellite or radio links.
But the decrease in commercial flights has meant an enormous drop in these measurements, of generally around 80% but up to 90% in some of the most vulnerable areas, such as the tropics and in the southern hemisphere.
Fortunately, satellite-based observations are working well and proving to be stable.
The WMO currently uses 30 meteorological satellites and 200 research satellites, which provide continuous, highly-automated observations.
There are also more than 10,000 completely automated and unmanned surface weather stations on Earth.