COVID-19 and the forecast: How grounded flights are impacting weather forecasting data

New data shows the devastating impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on the airline industry. According to TSA, on Tuesday, March 31, just over 146,000 passengers were screened at U.S. airports, a 94% drop from the same day last year.

That is having an effect on how our meteorologists forecast the weather as planes provide critical information for the Boston 25 Weather Team.

According to Boston 25 Meteorologist Vicki Graf, weather data is pulled from surface observations, weather balloons, satellites, buoys, and aircraft. From there, that data is used in complex equations that computer models translate to a weather forecast.

Graf spoke with Dr. John Knox, a geography professor at the University of Georgia, who also specializes in aviation meteorology research.

"We get lots and lots of data from aircraft that have built-in sensors to the aircraft that sense the weather at the jet stream level," said Knox.

Sensors that measure temperature, wind speed and direction, humidity and turbulence.

“So fewer airlines in the sky means less data from the jet stream level and as we know, the jet stream has a lot to do with what happens with our weather,” said Knox.

Studies have shown a 50% decrease in airplanes could reduce the accuracy of computer model forecasts by 10%.

“It’s a little bit like if you lost your latest pair of glasses and you had to put on your old pair that you kept, it’s not that you can’t see, but everything is a little fuzzier,” Knox said.

It's a smaller detail that will be more noticeable for meteorologists when forecasting three to seven days out.

As soon as flights return to normal, the way we receive weather data will also go back to normal.