Meteorologist Heather Mathis explains impact COVID-19 is having on forecasting weather

Posted at 8:40 AM, Apr 15, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Planes collect data meteorologists can use to build their forecast, but stay-at-home orders have led to a dramatic drop in flights.

On Monday, the Transportation Safety Administration said 102,184 travelers came through checkpoints nationwide compared to 2,484,580 individuals screened one year ago. That is approximately a 95% decrease in passengers.

"The lack of aircraft flying right now because of the coronavirus means less data they're collecting," said Storm 5 Meteorologist Heather Mathis.

The Storm 5 Weather Team uses a number of tools to build the forecast. Data from planes is most helpful to the meteorologists in the short-term.

"We actually are able to use sensors and data that are on airplanes that are able to give us profiles. So we can see the temperature, dew point, wind speeds. We can use that to be able to tell is there dry air in the mid-levels of the atmosphere? Will that enhance our hail risk during a severe weather event?"

Heather explained because weather balloons are still being launched multiple times a day and there are dozens of observation sites in Middle Tennessee, not all is lost.

Heather said the biggest loss may manifest itself down the road.

"Before COVID-19 there was actually a plan in place to get more airlines contributing and getting this data. It's data that not only we can use to see the atmosphere, but [it] also feeds into computer models as well, helping those computer models become more accurate," she said.

Currently, 43 airlines collect information for forecasters.

For more information about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic could have on the quantity and quality of weather observations and forecasts, as well as atmospheric and climate monitoring, click here.


See all our coronavirus coverage here


What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.