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‘A little less certain:’ Drop in aircraft flights due to COVID-19 may affect weather forecasts

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NEW YORK -- As the coronavirus pandemic causes major airlines to ground more of their fleets, experts say this could have impacts on the way weather is able to be forecasted.

As airplanes fly, technology on-board measures and calculates wind speeds, atmospheric pressures, and temperatures. Officials say planes gather as much as 250 million weather pattern data each year.

Data which is used by the National Weather Service.

But now, as more planes are grounded as a precaution to slow the spread of COVID-19, experts say this will have some negative effects on producing accurate forecasters.

But, not all hope is lost.

"Well, it will probably cause the forecast to be slightly less skillful," said Cliff Mass, Atmospheric Science Professor at the University of Washington.

 "It doesn't mean that we're unable to forecast, it just means that we might be a little less certain about the outcomes on any particular storm," said Todd Lerico, National Weather Service.

"I do think that it's important to keep in mind that 95 percent of our observations come from weather satellites, and those are not going away. So as long as we have the weather satellites, we'll still be able to produce a very useful forecast," said Mass.

Although weather satellites will help, experts say one of the main challenges will be predicting weather patterns 72 hours into the future.

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