How Weather Models and Google Could Help Forecast Flu Season
Last month, despite the tragic consequences of Hurricane Sandy, one thing became apparent—the powerful weather models now available have become better and better at helping forecasters predict where storms like Sandy are going next.
That technology is more useful than just storm prediction. In a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a pair of researchers have harnessed this tech to predict the spread of influenza. With real-time data from Google Flu Trends, their models can forecast where, when and how severely seasonal flu outbreaks will occur across the country.
“[Our] findings indicate that real-time skillful predictions of peak timing can be made more than seven weeks in advance of the actual peak,” writes Jeffrey Shaman, an environmental scientist from Columbia University, and Alicia Karspeck of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in their paper. “This work represents an initial step in the development of a statistically rigorous system for real-time forecast of seasonal influenza.” If such hopes come to fruition, there could be something like an advance flu warning system (“flu rates are projected to peak in your area next week”) similar to those for hurricanes and other severe weather events.