Meteorologists warn 5G spectrum could set weather forecasts back by decades

20 May 2019

Image: © athichoke.pim/

Meteorologists have warned the US government and FCC that a 5G spectrum up for auction could seriously disrupt weather satellites.

While conspiracy theories abound over the roll-out of 5G, the US Navy, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have issued a stark warning to American lawmakers over one particular aspect of it.

According to Ars Technica, two senators have made public a US Navy memo warning that the current 5G spectrum up for auction by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could severely impact the accuracy of weather forecasting systems. The memo said that the 24GHz spectrum for mobile use is too similar to the 23.8GHz band used to collect weather data.

If a number of different 5G radios are dotted across the US, it warned, it would interfere with devices known as passive microwave sounders, a critical tool for meteorologists to predict weather events.

In a letter to FCC chair Ajit Pai, senators Ron Wyden and Maria Cantwell listed some of the services disrupted including “the Department of Defense, public safety officials, the commercial fishing industry, farmers and millions of Americans who depend on accurate forecasts of floods, hurricanes, winter storms and tornadoes”.

Comparable with the 1980s

They also asked the FCC to provide evidence the 24GHZ spectrum wouldn’t impact satellite measurements of water vapour used in the 23.8GHZ band and advised that it shouldn’t issue licences until it can offer this proof.

Testifying to the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Environment, acting chief of NOAA Dr Neil Jacobs said that passive microwave sounders provide a “critical dataset” in weather prediction and, if affected, would reduce their accuracy by 30pc.

“If you look back in time to see when our forecast skill was roughly 30pc less than it was today, it’s somewhere around 1980,” Jacobs said. “This would result in the reduction of hurricane track forecast lead time by roughly two to three days.”

This particular spectrum is not universal across the globe. Ireland, for example, previously auctioned 5G services on the 3.6GHz spectrum. However, as the US remains a leading provider of the world’s global weather forecasting, such effects would significantly impact global weather forecasting.

The FCC has been given until 11 June to respond to the questions posed by the two senators.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic