The rollout of speedy 5G wireless networks could interfere with weather forecasting, according to US science agencies including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The agencies say 5G could set back forecasting abilities by 40 years, leaving less time for evacuation ahead of deadly storms. The argument puts them at odds with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the wireless industry, which have been pushing to deploy 5G technology as soon as possible, according to the Washington Post.

The technology will transmit information 100 times faster than current systems, and proponents have framed the issue as a pressing need to maintain American leadership in technology. But NOAA acting head Neil Jacobs told Congress last week that satellites would lose about 30 percent of their forecasting accuracy.

“If you looked back in time to see when our forecast skill was 30 percent less than today, it’s somewhere around 1980. This would result in the reduction of hurricane track forecast lead time by roughly 2 to 3 days,” he said, speaking to the House Subcommittee on the Environment.

One of the wireless frequencies that would be used for 5G is the 24GHz band, which is close to the frequencies that microwave satellites rely on to detect water vapor, according to The Verge. This interference could limit forecasting ability.

“That part of the electromagnetic spectrum is necessary to make predictions as to where a hurricane is going to make landfall. If you can’t make that prediction accurately, then you end up not evacuating the right people and/or you evacuate people that don’t need to evacuate, which is a problem,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told the House Science Committee last month.

But CTIA, a trade association for wireless communications companies, argues that the science behind the claim doesn’t hold up.

“It’s an absurd claim with no science behind it,” CTIA executive vice president Brad Gillen wrote in a blog post. He argues that the study cited by NOAA uses a microwave sensor that was never used, as part of a satellite program that was cancelled in 2010. The study, a collaboration between NOAA, NASA, and the FCC, has not been made public.

But University of Wisconsin atmospheric scientist Jordan Gerth criticized Gillen’s blog post as “misleading.” According to Gerth, a sensor similar to the one used in the study is used by two NOAA satellites as well as international agencies. According to Gerth, these sensors also transmit data close to the 24 GHz band, and could be vulnerable to interference.

 

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