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Geneva, Switzerland - Sensors, computers, and communications systems installed commercial planes automatically collect and transmit meteorological data to ground stations around the world.

Experts say data collected via commercial airplanes have been curtailed due to the sharp decline in air traffic.

“In-flight measurements of ambient temperature and wind speed and direction are a very important source of information for both weather prediction and climate monitoring,”

the World Meteorological Organization states.

The Geneva-based agency says 43 airlines and several thousand aircraft contribute to the Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay program (AMDAR), producing over 800,000 daily observations such as air temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity and even turbulence.

However, with airlines worldwide grounding most of their fleets due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, those observations are also down.
WMO says that in many parts of the world, over Europe and the USA in particular, the number of observations from aircraft is down anywhere from 50% to over 80%.

“At the present time, the adverse impact of the loss of observations on the quality of weather forecast products is still expected to be relatively modest. However, as the decrease in the availability of aircraft weather observations continues and expands, we may expect a gradual decrease in reliability of the forecasts,”

Lars Peter Riishojgaard, director, Earth System Branch in WMO’s Infrastructure Department, said.

Besides aircraft observations, the WMO also collects weather data from satellites, ground stations, surface monitoring systems, and marine-based platforms. Some WMO member states, especially in Europe, are sending up more radiosondes on weather balloons to take meteorological readings to compensate for the lack of aircraft observations.

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