TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) — As cell companies begin to rollout the ultra fast wireless service called 5G, scientists are asking government officials to slow things down.
That's because they worry some of the signals used by 5G will interfere with the same signals used in satellite weather imagery.
That's something local meteorologists say could make their jobs much more difficult.
“Its important to the forecaster to watch the three dimensional changes in the atmosphere and satellite helps us do that," said Steve Piltz, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Tulsa.
Satellite imagery is especially useful when tracking storms in the open ocean like tropical hurricanes or mid-latitude cyclones.
For Oklahomans, its how we track our winter weather.
Data from satellites directly feeds the weather models used in forecasting the weather.
“Really when you think about the snow forecasts that get folks all excited as we are in the winter season now, all that starts with the weather system over the pacific where there’s really very little data," said Piltz.
Like all things wireless, satellites use wavelengths and frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum.
It's a finite resource and with limited bandwidth available for use.
As 5G rolls out, some of the allotted bandwidth borders right up to the bandwidth needed for scientists to view water vapor (aka clouds).
"Water vapor emits radiation at that specific bandwidth," said Piltz. "So we can't change where we operate on the [electromagnetic] spectrum."
Scientists at NASA, NOAA, and other agencies from around the world worry the signals could bleed over and render weather satellites completely useless.
Acting chief of NOAA, Neil Jacobs, spoke to Washington about the issue.
He said the potential data interference could set our weather forecasting abilities back to the 1980s if it's not handled correctly.
Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas is one of the key congressional players on making sure the rollout of 5G is done correctly.
He is the head of the House Committee of Science, Space and Technology, and also represents one of the most severe weather prone districts in the entire country.
"I represent northwestern Oklahoma. Agriculture, energy, the weather matters dearly to us," said Lucas. "I'm a farmer myself, so being able to know what’s coming, it's just critically important to me.”
The congressman says he fully supports 5G, as long as it doesn't interfere with weather forecasting, something that can be life or death in Oklahoma.
"We need to understand just what the interference issues are. How much separation we have to have on the spectrum to make sure we don’t have cross interference . And we need to be making sure the federal communications commission, the FCC, understands that.”
A recent world conference on this issue set global boundaries for 5G signals.
Rep. Lucas says from here they will working with different department and researchers to determine if they can move forward with those guidelines.