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A side effect of the coronavirus: unpredictable weather

FILE - An Airbus A321-231 operated by JetBlue takes off from JFK Airport on August 24, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY— A strange side effect of the coronavirus:  it’s messing up some weather forecasts. The journal Geophysical Research Letters says it’s due to there being less commercial flights in the air. 

Commercial airplanes log a bunch of weather stats, like relative humidity, wind direction, and air pressure.  This data goes into the algorithms that are used to predict the forecast.

The journal says “in between March and May, the amount of weather observation data recorded by commercial airplanes has declined by 50 to 75 percent.”  So… how is the Wasatch Front “weathering” this loss of data?

“We’re not affected locally,” says KSL TV Chief Meteorologist Kevin Eubank. “We have the same amount of data points… There’s are plenty of  flights domestically flying [for our purposes.]  Really what I’m tracking on a day to day is what’s coming from the Pacific, what’s coming from the West, what’s moving in from the North and South… and I’m getting all that data.”  Eubank says there are plenty of other tools at our disposal as well.  “We use ground observation, we have weather balloons and sensors, we have satellites.”

Eubank notes that the lack of commercial flying can affect the forecasts in “less-traveled-over”, more remote areas.  And it affects the larger picture.  Eubanks says from a “big point of view, this hurts because we’ve lost a lot of data points.” 

The journal says long term forecasts suffered the most from a lack of data, and Eubanks agrees. “Current observations that prognosticate out over the next several weeks and months…. Seasonal models, climate models, long-range models [will be affected]… The more data points you add in, the better results you’re going to get.”

The journal summarized the side effect the coronavirus has on the weather.