The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the quantity and quality of weather observations and forecasts, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
According to the WMO, the coronavirus the lockout means that weather measurements from airplanes have “dropped” up to 80% in some regions, and closer to 90% in the southern hemisphere.
Surface observations are also declining, “especially in Africa and parts of Central and South America where many stations are manual rather than automatic,” he added.
“As we approach the hurricane season in the Atlantic, the COVID-19 pandemic poses an additional challenge and could exacerbate multi-hazard risks at the level of a single country,” warned the WMO Secretary General, Petteri Taalas.
While large parts of the weather monitoring systems are automated to some extent, there is concern that the pandemic will continue, so they will miss crucial repair work.
Much of the WMO data comes from commercial airlines, which use their own sensors, computers and communications systems to automatically collect and process weather observations to ground stations via satellite or radio links.
But the decline in commercial flights has resulted in a huge drop in these measures, generally in the range of 80% but up to 90% in some of the most vulnerable areas, such as the tropics and the southern hemisphere.
Fortunately, satellite observations work well and appear to be stable.
WMO currently uses 30 weather satellites and 200 research satellites, which provide continuous and highly automated observations.
There are also more than 10,000 fully automated and unmanned surface weather stations on Earth.