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NOAA Official: 5G Threatens Weather Forecast Accuracy

The acting chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told members of Congress that 5G technology has the potential to set back the accuracy of forecasts by several decades.

(TNS) — While 5G is being heralded as the Internet of the future, it may force weather forecasting back several decades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA's acting chief Neil Jacobs testified at a Congressional hearing about the threat to weather forecasting posed as the FCC auctions the 24 GHz spectrum to wireless carriers. Carriers are looking to use that frequency to support 5G, the latest innovation in the wireless network.

According to studies by NASA and NOAA, the current plan would reduce data collected on "passive microwaves" by 77% and "degrade the forecast skill by up to 30%," Jacobs told to the House Subcommittee on the Environment.

"If you look back in time to see when our forecast skill was roughly 30% less than what it is today, that's somewhere around the 1980s," Jacobs said. "This would result in the reduction of the hurricane track forecast time by roughly two to three days."

For perspective, there was four days notice before Hurricane Michael slammed into Bay County as a Category 5 storm. If the same were to happen again under the current plan, there could be as little as one day notice.

Though the auction started in March, some members of Congress have called for a pause on the auction until a fix for the threat to weather forecasting is found.

The United State racing against China to build the first mass-market 5G network, which will increase speed and bandwidth to the point that some telecom experts say it could cause the "fourth industrial revolution," according to reports. Panama City is as the forefront of it, as Verizon has announced it will be one of the first five cities to receive 5G coverage. Many regard the move as a sort of apology for the massive failure of the Verizon network following the Hurricane Michael, making the threat it could create for hurricane predicting particularly ironic.

Even with the threat to weather forecasting, scientists and national leaders have been clear that 5G is a good thing for the nation — local officials have been enthusiastic about its potential to lure private businesses to the area and help with recovery efforts — it just might require a small pause to work out some fixable kinks.

"Leadership in 5G networks and devices is undoubtedly critical to our economic and national security," a May 13 letter to the FCC from Sen. Rob Wyden, D-Oregon, and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, asking for a pause on the auction said. "However, it does not enhance America's place in this global race for 5G leadership to advocate for standards that do not pass scientific scrutiny in international forums."

What is being proposed, the senators said, amounts to a "self-inflicted degradation in American weather predicting capabilities" that would cost taxpayers and cancel out billions of dollars in investments into weather prediction. The data loss would also impact the Department of Defense, public safety officials, commercial fisheries and farmers, the letter said.

The good news is Jacobs was also clear in his testimony on Thursday that he regards this as a fixable problem.

"I am optimistic that we can come up with an elegant solution where passive microwave sensing and 5G can co-exist," Jacobs said.

To track a storm, one data set forecasters look at is "microwave data" on the 23.8 GHz spectrum and collects temperature and moisture data without being impacted by cloud conditions. It's an "incredibly important data set to us," said Jacobs, pointing to a study that showed without microwave data, forecasters would have predicted that Superstorm Sandy would have stayed out at sea, leaving thousands without warning.

Under the current proposal from the FCC, he said this in jeopardy. But with some tweaks to the interference allowance, he said NOAA and NASA scientists have a proposal that cause no data loss. He added experts in NOAA, NASA and the FCC are working on the issue.

Members of the subcommittee stressed the importance of finding this balance.

"While Congress has taken steps to improve weather forecasting we must be certain other policies are not undercutting our abilities," said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma. "We have heard concerns from NASA and NOAA about the recent FCC wireless spectrum auction could potentially undermine the quality of the weather forecasting due to the overlap of the frequencies uses to detect moisture. We all support the many benefits of 5G, including faster more reliable connection,s but we must develop it in a way that doesn't lower the quality of our satellites remote sensing ability."

©2019 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.