Will The Accuracy Of Weather Forecasts Be Hurt By New 5G Smartphone Technology?

September 22, 2021

Ever since wireless technology providers began initial moves to this fifth generation technology in 2019, a lengthy debate has resulted revolving around that specific question.

The problem involves the very close proximity of several 5G frequency bands to frequencies used by weather satellites, which use these frequencies to measure the current state of the atmosphere. This “picture” of the current weather is then used in numerical weather forecast models, as well as manually examined by meteorologists, to come up with as accurate of a weather forecast into the future as possible. If extraneous noise from the billions of smartphones and wireless devices expected to be using 5G in the coming years interferes with radiation measured by satellites in these frequencies, the argument goes, numerical weather forecast models and meteorologists could be dealing with erroneous data and depictions of the atmosphere that only get magnified with time, harming future forecasts.

Recent Scientific American and Science Journal news articles described these issues and a report released in July by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology that called for further examination of these issues. Other recent informative articles have been written as well, such as these from the Denver Post and National Geographic. Some interesting highlights we found from these include:

  • The most concerning frequency in the near term is one at 23.8 Gigahertz due to relatively weak radiation emitted by water vapor at this frequency. It is perilously close to a frequency band already widely auctioned off by the FCC (24-26 Gigahertz).
  • Other frequency bands satellites use are in danger too, such as those used to measure rain, snow, clouds, ice, and temperature profiles in the atmosphere.
  • It has been found that approximately 20% of the impact in short-term weather forecasts comes from cloud, precipitation and humidity data from satellites, according to a study from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting.
  • If water vapor detection becomes severely limited, this alone would make a significant impact on forecasting, particularly for weather that comes from water sources such as hurricanes and extratropical cyclones that move into the U.S. west coast from the Pacific Ocean. Hurricane forecasting, for example, could degrade significantly and lead time could be reduced by 2-3 days. In the case of destructive hurricanes that already have short lead times, such as August’s Hurricane Ida along the Gulf Coast, this could prove devastating to great strides in forecasting made in recent decades.
  • Overall forecasting could be reduced at least 30%, which would reduce forecasting skill to that seen in the mid-1970s to around 1980, before the microwave sounder era.
  • A peer-reviewed Rutgers University study in 2020 showed quantitatively that any leakage from adjacent 5G frequencies would very likely lead to inaccuracies in weather forecasts.

Obviously if there is any degradation in weather forecasts it would have impacts on most industries and people that rely on them, and on the saving of lives from destructive weather events. As the debate continues between whether the 5G networks will interfere with immediately adjacent frequencies that are critical for data remotely sensed by weather satellites, and whether they could thus threaten the setback of weather forecasts as much as decades, ForecastWatch will continue to monitor the accuracy of these forecasts to observe any trends as technology continues to advance.


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