USA: How the new 5G network could wreak havoc on weather forecasts

Mother Nature Network

By Christian Cotroneo


In March, when the Federal Communications Commission offered up a swathe of the 24-gigahertz frequency band to wireless carriers, it hit a little too close to home for meteorologists.

Weather detection, you see, lives just next door — at 23.8 GHz. And while normally, different wireless services can cozy up on the spectrum, modern weather detection is a sensitive and precise science. A good meteorologist is a good listener.


The trouble is meteorologists can't just move out of the neighborhood. Water in the air gives off a very faint radio signal at 23.8 Ghz. That's the frequency weather satellites have to bend an ear to so the data can be collected and ultimately turned into a weather forecast. It's a passive and very delicate process. The new network, on the other hand, is much louder. The transmitters for 5G would likely drown out those quiet-sensing satellites.

"We can't move away from 23.8 or we would," Jordan Gerth, a research meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin told Wired. "As far as 5G is concerned, the administration has a priority to put 5G on the spectrum, and they thought this was an OK place to do it. It's just close to where we are sensing the weather."

What does that mean for Americans? Well, while you were on the phone, a devastating storm formed on the Gulf Coast and you now have much less time to skedaddle. In fact, meteorologists expect the 5G network will reduce the accuracy of weather detection by about a third — essentially throwing the service back in time to what it was like in the 1980s.


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