Cantwell Criticizes FCC for Ignoring Concerns About Interference with Extreme Weather Forecasting, Announces Upcoming Hearing

June 12, 2019

Following months of concern from leading scientists about interference with critical U.S. weather data used to predict hurricanes and other extreme weather events, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, reiterated her concern about ongoing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) action that threatens to set U.S. forecasting back to the 1970s. Cantwell also announced today the committee will hold a hearing to examine the issue in more detail.

“When scientists and weather experts from outside and inside the Trump administration warned that actions on spectrum could harm forecasting, their concerns were ignored,” Cantwell said. “I want to thank Chairman Wicker for agreeing to hold a hearing on this topic in the near future, because I think it needs to be addressed in more detail. I also want to make sure that we are clear today: we are not going to allow this vital information to be jeopardized in the future.”

Experts inside and outside the Trump administration have raised concerns that activity 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.

At a House Science Subcommittee hearing in May, Acting National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Dr. Neil Jacobs said interference with weather satellites could result in losing as much as 77 percent of data from passive microwave sensors, degrading forecast skill by up to 30 percent. At a House Science Subcommittee hearing in April, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said these data losses could take U.S. weather forecasting capabilities back as far as 1978.

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

Last month, 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. The senators also released an internal U.S. Navy memo, which concluded that reducing the accuracy of weather forecasts could threaten the safety of aircraft and naval vessels and reduce military awareness of battlefield conditions.

The date and time of the hearing have not yet been set.