Scientists fears 5G could impact ability to accurately forecast weather

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 says 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.

Dr. Neil Jacobs of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration testified in front of Congress this spring and said that he's worried 5G interference could set back weather prediction by 30 years.

“This would result in the reduction of hurricane-force track lead time by roughly two to three days,” Jacobs said.

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," Nick Ludlum, SVP and Chief Communications Officer, CTIA.

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.”

This past week at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Egypt, standards were set on how frequencies will be used for 5G around the world. It wasn’t quite what meteorologists were hoping for at the 24GHZ frequency in terms of power usage, but it is a compromise.

A spokesperson from NOAA sent us this statement:

“NOAA will perform additional analyses using the new standards agreed to at the World Radiocommunication Conference to identify any potential impacts on our observing systems.  Additional time will be required for these studies.  We look forward to working with our interagency partners and external stakeholders through this collaborative process.”

An FCC spokesperson told Boston 25 News:

“The compromise standards adopted at WRC-19 are a win-win.  They will permit the deployment of 5G in the 24 GHz band and protect passive weather sensors.  We are pleased that the international community was able to reach this balanced result that is consistent with sound science and engineering.”