WEATHER VERSUS PROPAGATION
Weather is an additional factor that affects the propagation of radio waves. In this section, we will explain how and to what extent the various weather phenomena affect wave propagation.
Wind, air temperature, and water content of the atmosphere can combine in many ways. Certain combinations can cause radio signals to be heard hundreds of miles beyond the ordinary range of radio communications. Conversely, a different combination of factors can cause such attenuation of the signal that it may not be heard even over a normally satisfactory path. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules on the effects of weather on radio transmissions since the weather is extremely complex and subject to frequent change. We will, therefore, limit our discussion on the effects of weather on radio waves to general terms.
Calculating the effect of weather on radio wave propagation would be comparatively simple if there were no water or water vapor in the atmosphere. However, some form of water (vapor, liquid, or solid) is always present and must be considered in all calculations. Before we begin discussing the specific effects that individual forms of precipitation (rain, snow, fog) have on radio waves, you should understand that attenuation because of precipitation is generally proportionate to the frequency and wavelength of the radio wave. For example, rain has a pronounced effect on waves at microwave frequencies. However, rain hardly affects waves with long wavelengths (hf range and below.) You can assume, then, that as the wavelength becomes shorter with increases in frequency, precipitation has an increasingly important attenuation effect on radio waves. Conversely, you can assume that as the wavelength becomes longer with decreases in frequency, precipitation has little attenuation effect.
Attenuation because of raindrops is greater than attenuation because of other forms of precipitation. Attenuation may be caused by absorption, in which the raindrop, acting as a poor dielectric, absorbs power from the radio wave and dissipates the power by heat loss or by scattering (fig. 2-24). Raindrops cause greater attenuation by scattering than by absorption at frequencies above 100 megahertz. At frequencies above 6 gigahertz, attenuation by raindrop scatter is even greater.
Figure 2-24. - Rf energy losses from scattering.
In the discussion of attenuation, fog may be considered as another form of rain. Since fog remains suspended in the atmosphere, the attenuation is determined by the quantity of water per unit volume and by the size of the droplets. Attenuation because of fog is of minor importance at frequencies lower than 2 gigahertz. However, fog can cause serious attenuation by absorption, at frequencies above 2 gigahertz.
The scattering effect because of snow is difficult to compute because of irregular sizes and shapes of the flakes. While information on the attenuating effect of snow is limited, scientists assume that attenuation from snow is less than from rain falling at an equal rate. This assumption is borne out by the fact that the density of rain is eight times the density of snow. As a result, rain falling at 1 inch per hour would have more water per cubic inch than snow falling at the same rate.
Attenuation by hail is determined by the size of the stones and their density. Attenuation of radio waves by scattering because of hailstones is considerably less than by rain.
Under normal atmospheric conditions, the warmest air is found near the surface of the Earth. The air gradually becomes cooler as altitude increases. At times, however, an unusual situation develops in which layers of warm air are formed above layers of cool air. This condition is known as TEMPERATURE INVERSION. These temperature inversions cause channels, or ducts, of cool air to be sandwiched between the surface of the Earth and a layer of warm air, or between two layers of warm air.
If a transmitting antenna extends into such a duct of cool air, or if the radio wave enters the duct at a very low angle of incidence, vhf and uhf transmissions may be propagated far beyond normal line-of-sight distances. When ducts are present as a result of temperature inversions, good reception of vhf and uhf television signals from a station located hundreds of miles away is not unusual. These long distances are possible because of the different densities and refractive qualities of warm and cool air. The sudden change in density when a radio wave enters the warm air above a duct causes the wave to be refracted back toward Earth. When the wave strikes the Earth or a warm layer below the duct, it is again reflected or refracted upward and proceeds on through the duct with a multiple-hop type of action. An example of the propagation of radio waves by ducting is shown in figure 2-25.
Figure 2-25. - Duct effect caused by temperature inversion.
Q.42 How do raindrops affect radio waves?
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