UGA scientist worries about 5G impact on forecasting

5G technology promises faster connectivity than ever before, but scientists fear it may come at a price. There are concerns this new tech could impact the accuracy of severe weather forecasts.

"All of us love our phones and faster internet and wireless is great." But University of Georgia atmospheric science professor Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd told Severe Weather Team 2 Meteorologist Brad Nitz he is concerned. "Hurricanes, thunderstorms they feed on water vapor. When we're trying to predict hurricane movement, strength intensity, we need to know where the water vapor sources are."

Meteorologists’ ability to look at water vapor is what has Shepherd concerned. Scientists use a specific radio frequency to detect the water vapor.

“The satellite can detect that energy and that’s how we know how much water vapor is in the atmosphere and where it is,” Shepherd said.

But federal leaders at the Federal Communications Commission auctioned off frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum to wireless companies to send 5G signals. Some of those frequencies are very close to that crucial water vapor frequency. Researchers fear that will interfere with scientists’ ability to measure water vapor.

“Both NASA and NOAA models and studies suggest that we will see noticeable degradation in weather forecast skill, and I trust those folks,” Shepherd said.

“So, the weather satellite is detecting that frequency and would pick up, potentially, 5G signals and confuse those for water vapor?” Nitz asked.

“Absolutely,” Shepherd said. “You’re masking out the signal -- it’s all just noise, if you will.”

The FCC and major wireless companies declined on-camera interviews, but wireless industry trade group CTIA emailed a statement that said:

“Claims that 5G in the 24 GHZ band will decrease the accuracy of weather forecasts are simply not true. All available evidence shows that existing interference rules are proven to protect the collection of weather data.”

While Shepherd said he has no doubt the accuracy of weather forecasting is at risk, he said a potential fix is to turn down the power of the 5G signal that falls near the water vapor frequency.

“We don’t want to go backwards with weather forecasting, we’re in a golden era of forecasting right now,” Shepherd said. “Our skill level is pretty good and it’s because of these new data sets like water vapor from satellites.”

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