Pandemic drag on air travel could also impact weather forecasts, scientists say

Pandemic drag on air travel could also impact weather forecasts, scientists say

ORLANDO, Fla. — The lack of air travel due to the pandemic could impact weather forecasts, experts say.

That’s because those same passenger planes also take weather readings as they travel around the globe.

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As National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Stan Benjamin explains, fewer flights means fewer weather observations, which could reduce the accuracy of forecasts.

“We had this reduction even down to 75 percent back in April,” Benjamin says. “A lot of my career has been centered on using weather information from commercial airplanes.”

The planes use instruments called pitot tubes to measure temperature, pressure, and wind.

The data is sent to NOAA where it’s joined with other readings from weather balloons, radar, satellites, and ground observations.

Benjamin says the loss of the data- which is used as a starting point for computer models to predict a forecast- can decrease that forecast’s accuracy.

When asked if it could be partly to blame for shifts in Hurricane Eta’s track last week- wiggling dramatically overnight and shifting much closer to Florida- Benjamin says, not likely.

“I don’t think the wiggling of the tracks came from lack of aircraft data in that particular case.”

That’s because, he says, the remaining flights that are still operating are taking enough observations so that the loss of forecast accuracy is minimal.

There was a similar gap in data when flights were grounded after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.