The communication networks that relay your cell phone conversations can also double as monitors to measure rainfall, a new study finds.
Rain causes dips in the strength of radio signals bounced back and forth between towers within the network. These dips can then be analyzed to calculate surface rainfall during storms.
The study, led by Hagit Messer from Tel Aviv University in Israel, is detailed in the May 5 issue of the journal Science.
Using data collected every 15 minutes from a cellular network in Israel during a rainstorm, the researchers calculated the amount of surface rainfall. The precision of their measurements was in between that of rain gauges, which are accurate but expensive, and weather radars, which are not very accurate at surface levels.
The researchers also point out that tools for modeling and interpreting radio signal disturbances caused by rain already exist for cellular networks and could be easily modified for atmospheric studies.
Cellular networks might also be good for tracking fog, snow, sleet, hail and even water vapor, the researchers said.