The COVID-19 pandemic will have an impact on quantity and quality of weather observations and forecasts around the world, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Large parts of the global observation system are fully automated but crucial maintenance functions may be delayed, causing a gap in the ability to gather information.
WMO’s Global Observing System provides data on the state of the atmosphere and ocean surface from land-based, marine-based and space-based instruments. The data is used in weather analysis, forecasting, and advisories, and deployed globally on national and international levels to prepare for climate-related crises.
Commercial airliners (which currently fly far less frequently) use onboard sensors and communications systems to collect and transmit meteorological observations. According to WMO, The Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay (AMDAR) program previously produced over 700,000 high-quality observations per day of air temperature and wind speed and direction, together with the required positional and temporal information. In some parts of the world the decrease in the number of measurements taken has had a direct impact on the ability to predict weather and provide accurate climate monitoring.
In many developing countries, meteorologists rely on observations taken manually by weather observers. WMO has observed a significant decrease in the availability of this type of manual observations over the last two weeks. Some of this may be attributable to the coronavirus pandemic, and WMO is currently investigating this.
“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, Director, Earth System Branch in WMO’s Infrastructure Department.
“The same is true if the decrease in surface-based weather observations continues, in particular if the COVID-19 outbreak starts to more widely impact the ability of observers to do their job in large parts of the developing world. WMO will continue to monitor the situation, and the organization is working with its Members to mitigate the impact as much as possible,” he said.
Separately, the government of Switzerland has announced a contribution of almost $5 Million USD to establish and implement a coordination centre for new WMO services that will benefit their network of national weather services and specialist regional weather centres. Funding will also be applied to the development of custom services that will be targeted to humanitarian agencies for optimising emergency response, especially in the event of tropical cyclones or flooding in developing countries.
Weather, climate and water-related hazards often lead to major disasters. Early warning systems enable authorities, non-governmental organisations and affected residents to take targeted measures to protect themselves against the threat of extreme events, but access to reliable meteorological services and information is often difficult in developing and emerging countries.