What’s the Buzz About 5G and Weather Forecasts?
One hundred times faster than 4G, improved reliability and accessibility, increased cost-efficiency, a 5G network is all the rage in multiple spheres about the globe, be it tech junkies or the average smartphone user. Though, not everyone finds this new unveiling so exciting. Some meteorologists and atmospheric scientists have aired quite publicly that this introduction could pose issues for weather forecasting. The degree to which these new networks could interfere have raised cause for concern not just among meteorologists and forecasters, but those that rely on those forecasts as well.
5G, or “5th Generation Networks” similar to 4G networks, send and receive coded data via certain, precise bandwidths. Lower frequencies of these bandwidths are primarily occupied by TV, satellite, and even 4G. These low frequency bandwidths are extraordinarily crowded and have innumerable amounts of traffic, with more “cars,” or wireless devices, joining the road each second. In contrast, higher frequencies are less crowded and have miles of open road, so to speak. 5G aims to grab onto some of these less crowded bandwidths, specifically in the 24 Gigahertz (Ghz) range. This raises concern as weather satellites orbiting polar regions gather and send data very close to the 24 Ghz bandwidth.
There is worry that data and information from these 5G networks will leak into important signals being emitted and gathered from weather satellites. The 24Ghz signals are extremely close to the microwave lengths at which NOAA satellites transfer water vapor data that is so crucial in forecasting weather. Such interruptions may reduce the accuracy of weather forecasts and hinder forecasting ability, essentially returning weather forecasts to the past levels of accuracy.
With 5G in its infancy, and only just beginning to see the light of day in some cities across the United States, there is no knowing just how much, or how little it may affect weather forecasting ability. Some restrictions to wavelength use have been proposed to ease these fears, but the implementations would not be seen until the mid to late 2020’s, after 5G has taken its first steps, and begun to grow.
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© 2019 Weather Forecaster Alexis Clouser
One of the most majestic weather phenomena is the rainbow. Although it’s not rare to see a rainbow, what is rare is the occurrence of a supernumerary rainbow. These rainbows take on physics that are different of a primary rainbow (one that we are all familiar with) and that of a double rainbow.
A rainbow is formedas light passes through a water droplet. The droplet behaves much like a prism. As the light enters the water droplet, it is refracted (bent). The part that is refracted back to you is the rainbow you see and to see the rainbow, you have to be opposite the sun.The angle that is refracted gives the colors of the rainbow that our eyes see. The colors of the rainbow are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet (ROYGBIV) and are always in that order. To see the red color of the rainbow, light needs to be refracted at an angle of 42 degrees into our eyes. The blue portion, on the other hand, refracts at an angle of 40 degrees. Red will always be at the highest angle and violet at the lowest; refer to ROYGBIV. The image directly below shows how light is refracted at a certain angle when the light enters and leaves a water droplet. The second image below graphically depicts which colors you are able to see with respect to the refracted angle of the sun’s rays. Notice that the colors follow the ROYGIV pattern from top to bottom.
Image Courtesy: Met Office
Image Courtesy: Met Office
Unlike the primary rainbow, supernumeraries can only be explained from the wave nature of light, not from geometric optics.Generally speaking, supernumeraries are miniature arcs of rainbows which reside just inside the primary rainbow and mimic the primary rainbow in color and shape.Constructive and destructive interference are the main principles in forming supernumerary rainbows. The interference occurs between rays of light following slightly different paths with slightly varying lengths within the raindrops. Constructive interference occurs when the light waves are in phase with each other. This enables a bright band to form. When the waves are out of phase with one another, this is known as destructive interference, resulting in a gap. Destructive interference results in darkness, while with constructive interference, there is light. These rainbows are also most visible when the raindrops are of similar size. If there is too much variation in raindrop size, some of the colors within the supernumeraries will be washed out. The most vibrant colors in this case will be red and green. Below is a photograph of a supernumerary rainbow. Notice how the secondary rainbows are a mirror image of the primary rainbow, just fainter and smaller.
Credit: NASA, Met Office
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©2019 Meteorologist Corey Clay
There are many outlets that can deliver a forecast, and multiple factors that take place when formulating these. This leaves the general public with forecasts for different spans of time that could change regularly, some that measure a few days and others that measure a season. From discovering a 15 day forecast to questioning how the winter will be across the country; the use of forecasting models, previous climatology data or probability would take effect to generate an outlook for future weather conditions. The difference between a seasonal outlook and extended range forecasts will be discussed, while each sound similar — they are conveyed to the public differently.
An outlook appears like this and is directed from a government agency like NOAA:
Photo: Three Month Outlook for precipitation over the winter months in the United States. This image was generated on November 21, 2019. (Image courtesy of NOAA)
This map shows the probability of precipitation across the United States that gives an outlook into expected precipitation. A map depicting a seasonal outlook will be general in nature and not suggest a definitive forecast, since this amount of time that is forecasted covers a broad range which in this case is December to February. These outlooks consider global factors that can affect weather systems and their path towards the country. For example, ENSO or El Nino Southern Oscillation, will determine if sea surface temperatures over the Pacific Ocean are higher or lower than average. Phases of warmer than average or colder than average sea surface temperatures can have an effect on temperature, precipitation or dryness for a given region. In turn, this factors into a seasonal outlook.
An extended range forecast appears like this from a weather application from a website:
Photo: Current forecast provided by Wunderground for New York City, NY. (Image retrieved on December 1, 2019 from Wunderground.)
This depicts a local forecast for an extended period of time, but still within a term that is in closer range. For instance, extended forecasts are usually in the form of 7-day or 10-day forecasts, but in some cases up to 15-day. In the closest range of 1-3 days, we see the most accuracy and the further the forecast extends, the more vulnerable they are to changes. The amount of forecasting models that run a forecast extending up to 15 days are slim, and even though they exist, a forecast that is extending beyond 5 days could begin to lose confidence. These forecasts can change over the course of a few hours and are usually automatically generated based on the latest forecasting model runs.
Each of these forecasts depict a prediction of the future but in different spans of time. Seasonal outlooks will give a probability of a given variable, over a longer portion of time which will not provide a definitive forecast for your region. Over the course of time, you may expect a larger amount of precipitation than average for these months, but since this map extends over three months, you still have the chance of seeing normal days with less than average precipitation. Extended range forecasts do provide a look at an extended period of time, but within the course of one to two weeks, which is still in a relatively near-term. Each forecast can have future changes, and it’s best to ensure that you are looking at the most updated version of a forecast to be up to date with what is happening in your area.
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©2019 Meteorologist Jason Maska