In addition to the economic impact brought about by travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a report by Wired shows that the lack of airlines and ocean cruises is also negatively impacting weather forecasts.
Although meteorologists like to tout the technology they use to gather data in making more accurate predictions and forecasts, it turns out that satellites and sensor-laden instruments do have some liabilities.
Satellites, for example, obviously can’t provide direct atmospheric measurements, but instead utilize instrumentation that detects the amount of heat being given off to calculate air temperatures. Similarly, wind speeds are determined by gauging cloud movements.
This data is fed into algorithms that account for a number of atmospheric and oceanic conditions in identifying and predicting everything from tropical storms to polar winds, as well as for less dramatic endeavors — like generating three to 10-day forecasts.
However, key data points typically entered alongside this satellite data are measurements recorded by commercial airliners and cruise ships. Their proximity to the weather systems allows for more accurate readings that can be utilized in understanding how different conditions in varying locations impact weather on a country-by-country, or even global, level.
Weather centers in the U.S. and Europe are reportedly experiencing declines in weather data of as much as 90% since travel restrictions were enacted in mid-March. This data is especially critical as we enter the peak of hurricane season, which runs through November.
Experts worry that a lack of on-the-spot weather information could impact their ability to accurately track, predict and issue warnings for the predicted 15-20 named storms that are anticipated this year.
However, just as people have adapted to the new normal of a global pandemic, meteorologists have upped their game as well.
A new weather satellite launched by the European Space Agency, called Aeolus, now offers the ability to more accurately determine winds via an ultraviolet laser that bounces off moving particles in the air. Onboard instrumentation then measures the difference in frequency in the light, which is known as Doppler shift, and from there can determine wind speeds.