BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – Forecasters rely on knowing how much water vapor is in a storm. That information can help predict tornado-producing systems, damaging hailstorms or even blizzards. A scientist in Boulder is among those who says he’s concerned the rise of 5G and the small cell towers that make it work could have a disastrous impact on meteorology.

A 5G tower in Denver

A 5G tower in Denver outside the Denver Public Library (credit: CBS)

“My biggest worry about this is it’s going to set our ability to predict the weather (back) to decades in the past and ultimately that’s going to impact our ability to save lives and property,” said Dr. Antonio Busalacchi, the president of University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which is based in Boulder.

Flooding after a recent severe storm in the Denver metro area.

Flooding after a recent severe storm in the Denver metro area. (credit: CBS)

5G technology will deliver information up to 100 times faster than today’s mobile networks. Weather satellites and 5G signals both use electromagnetic radiation waves. CBS4 meteorologist Dave Aguilera says the 23.8GHz spectrum is where water vapor can be seen. And right next door — 24GHz — is the channel designated for 5G. The worry is 5G may bleed over into the vapor signal.

Weather satellites and 5G signals both use electromagnetic radiation waves. The 23.8GHz spectrum is where water vapor can be seen. 24GHz is the channel designated for 5G.

(credit: CBS)

“If this band is blocking our ability to see we will be losing our ‘eyes in the sky’ from the sky with respect to water vapor on the planet,” Busalacchi said.

“For Colorado and the Mountain West, we’d be losing access to this major variable that’s very important for forecasting of severe storms such as bomb cyclones and heavy snowfall over the Rockies.”

Busalacchi and other scientists fear that if the frequency for water vapor is not protected it could set forecasting back several decades.

“We’re losing observations of a major source of energy in the atmosphere. If we don’t know what that is then we’re going to be pushing back our forecasting ability to maybe like it was in the 1980s,” he said.

Dr. Antonio Busalacchi at UCAR in Boulder, Colorado.

CBS4 meteorologist Dave Aguilera interviews Dr. Antonio Busalacchi at UCAR (credit: CBS)

Right now the Federal Communications Commission is supporting a proposal that would provide protection for the water vapor band. But many researchers are remaining a little guarded.

“The FCC says they can limit the interference from one band to the other. But I used to work at NASA and I’ve been down this road before. Years ago in a different band we saw interference from beepers, garage doors, even though we were told there would not be interference. We could literally see across the globe where one frequency was bleeding into another,” Busalacchi said.

A 5G tower in Denver

(credit: CBS)

Last month, members of the FCC were at the World Radio Conference to work on a solution to the 5G forecasting problem.

“Without access to this water vapor information we wouldn’t know how wet the atmosphere is, if it’s dry or not and what the potential would be for a severe storm,” he said.

Dave Aguilera

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