Impact of washing hands on weather forecasts
The Covid-19 pandemic is impacting every part of our lives and the world economy. As we slowly get used to the new normal that is being created, we start appreciating the level of interconnectivity we have created on our planet.
One of the things we have taken for granted for years is weather forecasts. Over the last few decades, it has become more accurate and accessible. We owe this largely to the amount of data that is collected and processed all over this magnetic ball we live on.
Weather forecasting was one of the first places where we used big data and created dynamic predictive models. Currently, weather is forecast by using data from meteorological and research satellites, manned and automatic surface weather stations, upper-air stations, ships, moored and drifting buoys, weather radars and specially equipped commercial aircraft that measure key parameters of the atmosphere, land and ocean surface every day.
Commercial aircraft observations are a key piece in the weather data jigsaw puzzle and are among the most important data sources for reducing the error in forecast models. Observations collected by commercial aircraft are routed to weather agencies through the Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay (AMDAR) program, operated by the World Meteorological Organization. The number of daily AMDAR reports has risen from about 7,000 in the early 1990s to more than 700,000.
The Coronavirus Pandemic however has grounded several commercial fleets and we are experiencing the lowest volumes of air traffic in 20 years. We have not seen a significant impact of these events as yet on weather forecasts but some estimations claim that the inclusion of aircraft observations reduces six-hour forecast errors by 15 to 30% across North America in the Rapid Refresh (RAP) model, which is run every hour.
What this shows us is that we live in a planet where everything we do is connected to something else. We have created an ecosystem that is connected, interdependent and often taken for granted. What one industry, business or individual does in one part of the world affects seemingly unrelated things somewhere else. This is perhaps the butterfly effect playing out in plain sight.
With extreme changes in weather now becoming something we experience every year, perhaps before we cross our fingers hoping for a better future, we should wash our hands.