Cloudy with a chance of confusion: Coronavirus messes with the forecast

Forecast models rely on data collected from commercial flights, and the data is disappearing with planes grounded.


April 6, 2020

When you’re stuck inside all day, you may not care about the weather — whether the sun is shining, the clouds are glooming, or it’s raining freakin’ frogs. (Seriously, it wouldn’t surprise us at this point — we see you, Idaho earthquake.)

But some parts of the business world care about the forecast quite a bit, thankyouverymuch. Commodities markets (like food and gas) rely on accurate predictions to anticipate demand.

And the corona-crisis means the forecast is hazier

Why? It’s all about airplanes. The ones that AREN’T flying, that is.

Meteorologists use forecast models powered by hundreds of thousands of data points collected from commercial flights. The data began disappearing when planes were grounded.

  • Last month, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts said it had seen a 65% reduction in reports over a roughly 3-week period.
  • The World Meteorological Organization said European weather services were collaborating on ways to fill the gap.

In the meantime, the forecasts won’t go completely dark. The most important observations come from satellites. There’s even a crew of pilots that flies missions to gather weather data — they’re known as the Hurricane Hunters.

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