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Mar 02, 2015

Devalued Russian ruble affects accuracy of Chinese weather forecasts

What do Russian monetary policy and Chinese weather forecasts have in common? According to a social media post by China’s National Meteorological Center (NMC) last week, quite a bit.

The NMC’s post on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, predicted that “the devaluation of the Russian ruble may affect the accuracy of Chinese weather reports,” leading to thousands of re-posts and expressions of confusion over this curious linkage.

In the wake of its financial crisis and currency devaluation, Russia has decreased funding of daily weather observations made through radiosondes. Radiosondes weather balloon-mounted sensors that provide direct measurements of temperature, pressure, and humidity in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Typically, Russia shares radiosonde data with China that covers the shared border region between the two nations. Chinese meteorologists combine the Russian data with data from Chinese weather satellites to generate forecasts. Yet without the radiosonde atmospheric data, the weather forecasts lose much of their accuracy, resulting in increased risk to sectors of the government and economy that are highly dependent on precise weather data.

The Bottom Line

This example highlights the vulnerabilities in the current model of weather data collection. Data collection infrastructure (e.g. radiosondes, satellites) is typically government-owned, and thus exposed to unforeseen cutbacks of public funding. Further compounding this risk, countries tend to share weather data with other nations that cannot collect it themselves.

The case of Russia underscores the tenuousness of this system: one country’s financial woes impact not only its own ability to forecast the weather, but that of other countries as well.

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