Can weather modeling play a role in predicting the spread of COVID-19?

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It’d be a dream come true, wouldn’t it? A computer model that knew what COVID-19 was going to do. Much like a vaccine or a cure, it doesn’t exist (yet). But studies are being done to assess if WEATHER can play a role in how COVID-19 evolves.

It’s not a foreign concept. We know there are many viruses out there that have at least some element of seasonality to them. The flu, for example, is at it’s worst during the Winter. Could COVID-19 follow in the same footsteps as other infectious diseases? A new study seems to suggest the answer may be yes. I’ve attached a link to the study at the bottom of this story.

WHAT DID THE STUDY FIND? Right off the top…I’m a meteorologist. Not a doctor. No experience in infectious disease. I’m discussing this study strictly based on the fact it implies there may be some mingling within an area where I do have some expertise. Like many early studies, we’re left to ASSUME the data is indeed accurate, but only time will tell. Here’s what they found…

They found connections between temperature, humidity and latitude. COVID-19 has “established significant community spread in cities and regions along a narrow east west distribution roughly along the 30-50 degree N corridor.” That’s pretty much all of the United States minus south Florida and south Texas.

These latitudes featured similar weather, including an average temperature range of 5-11 C. That comes out to 41-52 degrees F. We know that Rochester has an average temperature in that range from roughly April 3- May 1, but we have been running warm this year, so you could argue we’re already in that window. The study also suggests that temperature range is combined with low humidity.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? It’s an early indication that COVID-19, like other infectious diseases, *might* have a preferred “sweet spot” of meteorological conditions. Remember, this is only one study. We’re at the infancy of what will be a time period of information bombardment. Time will peel back layers of data like an onion and expose more secrets. It also means that, if we assume there is indeed a weather sweet spot, perhaps we can model where COVID-19 will be most likely to spread more efficiently. Remember, you wouldn’t be measuring the spread directly, rather indirectly using weather modeling to assume areas where the weather will be within a certain range would be at greater risk for spread than those outside it.

WHAT ABOUT AUSTRALIA? THEY HAVE CORONAVISUS & IT’S SUMMER THERE: Fair point. I look at it like this- the study seems to suggest there may be a zone of conditions in which COVID-19 is able to maximize it’s spread. But it doesn’t negate the ability to spread outside of those conditions. Clearly, as evidenced by examples like Australia, it can indeed spread in relative warmth. But perhaps that warmth is tempering what would have otherwise been a more significant spread if Australia’s weather was more in line with that sweet spot. We know that the flu likes Winter vs. Summer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still catch the flu during Summer outside of those preferred conditions Winter brings. The wide range of weather conditions that exist on planet Earth could largely support COVID-19 anywhere, it’s more of a “where will it spread most” situation.

Knowing we have a certain range of latitude, temperature & humidity, the study offers a rough map of a zone where a more significant risk for community spread might exist through April:

This is where weather modeling comes into play. Plug in those conditions & let the computers to their thing. In theory, this would imply that “sweet spot” zone would migrate northward across the Northern Hemisphere as we phase deeper into Spring and eventually Summer. But it would also imply we’re in the midst of conditions COVID-19 likes, further fueling concern for where the next few weeks will take us.

We’re at ground zero in terms of knowledge base about this disease. Understand, that’s normal. Meteorology, astronomy, etc…we know so much now, but there was a point in all these fields of study where we knew nothing. Our knowledge curve will be steep as we get fresh influxes of data and information that can only come at the expense of time. This study, while offering no concrete ruling on the EXACT conditions COVID-19 favors, can be viewed as an important building block to the eventual and inevitable understanding of this disease. It’s a glimpse of early intelligence of a blossoming knowledge base where there are more questions than answers. But only for awhile. And that’s reason to be encouraged.

-Chief Meteorologist Eric Snitil

Link to study:

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