Cantwell Continues Push to Protect U.S. Weather Forecasting From Interference

Administrator Bridenstine: NASA study shows risk of losing “significant” weather data - “up to 70 percent”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today at a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the committee, continued her push to protect U.S. weather forecasting capabilities from serious interference.

In a hearing with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Cantwell asked about widespread concerns that ongoing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licensing of certain spectrum bands could interfere with critical weather satellites and set U.S. weather forecasting capabilities back decades.

“When [FCC] Chairman Ajit Pai was here, he said there was ‘absolutely no’ legitimacy to the issues raised by NASA,” Cantwell said. “Could I just get your comments on that so that we can keep making progress on solving this issue, and how important accurate weather forecasting information is – not just for you but for the travelling public?

Bridenstine’s response cited a NASA study and highlighted the risks of the Trump FCC’s moves.

“I can tell you that, depending on the decibel level in that 23.6 gigahertz, we could lose significant data,” Bridenstine said. “We could lose, according to the study, up to 70 percent of that data. And if that were to happen, it would affect our ability to predict weather, without question.”

Returning to Chairman Pai’s earlier dismissal of fears raised by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the U.S. Navy, and members of the scientific community, Cantwell said:

“Well, I consider those legitimate concerns.”

“I do too,” agreed Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS).

For months, experts inside and outside the Trump administration have raised concerns that the FCC allowing 5G operations in the 24 GHz spectrum frequency will interfere with critical weather data collection, damaging the effectiveness of U.S. weather satellites and harming forecasts and predictions relied on to protect safety, property, and national security.

In Washington state, the loss of forecasting capabilities could impact emergency managers and responders, firefighters, numerous industries, and U.S. military operations.

These concerns are particularly worrisome for many areas of the country that continue to deal with yearly hurricane seasons. At a House Science Subcommittee hearing in May, Acting NOAA Administrator Dr. Neil Jacobs warned that data losses from interference could substantially impair hurricane forecasting:

“This would result in the reduction of hurricane forecasting lead time by roughly 2-3 days,” Dr. Jacobs said.

Senator Cantwell has repeatedly raised concerns and asked the FCC to work with NOAA and NASA to find a solution to protect this critical weather data. In May, Cantwell and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to the FCC urging the Trump administration not to allow wireless companies to operate in 24 GHz spectrum until vital weather forecasting operations are protected. And at a Commerce Committee hearing last month, Cantwell raised her concerns again to the FCC commissioners.