Lockdown may lead to failure in global weather forecasting.

World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is a global initiative by 193 member nations. This organization stems from the International Meteorological Organization. WMO works with numerous agencies around the world to provide vital weather and climate information to its member nations. They collect meteorological data from its member nations ‘National Meteorological and Hydrological Services’. This system consists of a chain of land, oceanic, and space-based instruments across many countries. It analyses this data and gives the live forecast of weather around the World. This system is used to perform weather analysis forecasts, advisory, and warnings. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, this system too is under threat.

In a press release on 7th May 2020, WMO expressed its fear that due to the lockdown, the system may become compromised. Most of the systems that collect data are partially or fully automated, but they do require maintenance regularly or from time to time. If the lockdown continues further for a few weeks, the instruments lacking maintenance and repairs may begin to compromise the data. Some data collection points around the world have already been affected.

Due to the pandemic, air travel has reduced globally. But WMO was dependent on this system to collect meteorological data. WMO’s ‘Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay’ or the AMDAR program used to collect meteorological data from the in-flight sensors, detectors, and computers of commercial flights. The AMDAR system produced over 8,00,000 observations daily. But with the reduction of commercial air travel, the observations have drastically reduced. In the surfaced based data collection system, WMO noticed that, in developing and underdeveloped nations, the process of collecting and transmitting data has not been fully automated yet. These nations do not have centralized agencies to collect meteorological data like developed nations. They are mostly dependent on many small observatories located throughout their country to collect the data. But with a lockdown in place, many of these small observatories are no longer operational. The oceanic system has not yet been compromised. Most oceanic instruments do not require day to day maintenance and can continuously relay data for a few weeks. But these instruments require maintenance from time to time and the extension of lockdown situations may lead to failures in this global system.

But on a positive note, the space-based instruments have not been affected. WMO collects data from 30 meteorological satellites and 200 research satellites around the globe, and these satellites had been specially designed from the very beginning to be highly automated and they do not require regular maintenance. So, these data collection points have been mostly unaffected by the current lockdown scenario. So WMO is relying on this system over the others. Other than the space-based instruments, WMO has access to 10,000 manned and unmanned automatic weather stations around the globe, 100 moored and 1,000 drifting buoys, hundreds of weather radars, and 3,000 specially equipped commercial aircraft that regularly collects and relays meteorological data to WMO.


By Kaustav Bose

(May 2020)


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