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COVID-19: Aeolus and weather forecasts

21 April 2020

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We are all too aware that COVID-19 is a serious threat to health, is putting huge pressure on healthcare systems and it could leave the global economy struggling for years to come. With lockdown measures in force across the globe, the pandemic is also affecting aspects of everyday life that may not be so obvious. The drop in commercial flights, for example, has led to fewer measurements for weather forecasts, but fortunately, ESA's Aeolus satellite mission is helping to fill the gap.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting countless industries across the globe. The travel industry is one of the hardest hit with an unprecedented decline in air traffic. Under normal circumstances, commercial aircraft equipped with sensors supply measurements of temperature, wind speed and wind direction in the atmosphere below 13 km. Without these measurements, the weather forecasts we take for granted everyday would be much less accurate.

Florian Pappenberger from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in the UK, said, "Measurements from aircraft across Europe have dropped by 90%. We are still able to forecast the weather reliably several days ahead, but due to COVID-19 we may have temporarily lost as much skill as we gained in several years of scientific development."

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