Sunday, March 18, 2012

Does heavy cloud cover affect GPS reception?

Here, in our first best of the boards post, I’m quoting from alt.satellite.gps. The question that was asked  was, does heavy cloud cover affect GPS reception?

Dave Patton, Canadian Coordinator of the Degree Confluence Project had posted the best answer as of this morning…

The GPS signals will not be affected by clouds, rain, fog,
snow, etc., because of the combination of their passing
through water vapour, and the signal wavelength meaning
they "pass through" rain etc.

On the other hand, water will block/attenuate GPS signals.
For example, you can’t receive GPS signals underwater, although
having a GPS receiver antenna very close to the water surface
may allow some reception.

Most cloth that would be covering a GPS receiver’s antenna
will pass GPS signals(e.g. backpack, jacket, etc.), but cloth
with a metallic component will block/attenuate the signals.

Cloth that covers a GPS receiver’s antenna and gets wet
(e.g. from rain) can also block/attenuate the GPS signals.
In fact, you don’t even need the cloth – water on the case
that covers the GPS receiver antenna can block/attenuate
the GPS signals. That water could be drops, and/or a film
of water. I’ve seen that happen myself, when using my etrex
Venture in the rain – the signals were weak/blocked, but
a quick drying-off of the GPS case over the antenna brought
the reception back, which then degraded again as water
accumulated on the case. Similarly, GPS signal reception
is degraded in wet forest canopy conditions compared to
when the forest canopy is dry.

About Rich Owings

Rich is the owner, editor and chief bottle-washer for GPS Tracklog. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus.


  1. good and useful article. May I ask a question, I am in Mexico and bought a GPS tracker. It is good working at good weather, but it can’t work or work bad at bad weather with many thick clouds, and there is frequently storm weather here. I contact the supplier, they told me it is normal situation because the device will be affected by the bad weather especially under many thick clouds. And as your article indicate The GPS signals will not be affected by clouds, rain, fog, snow, etc., therefore, could you please help me to analyze the problem and show your opinion , thank you very much in advance. Best regards

  2. Does it have a transmitter (cellular?) that could be affected by the weather? Is it in a vehicle?

  3. hi Rich,thanks for your reply. Sometimes in the car, sometimes not,so I think it is no the problem no matter I use it in the car or not. And for the transmitter, do you mean the transmitter in the device for receiving the GPS signal? I think there will be the transmitter in the device, and if the transmitter is affected by the weather, is it the same mean that the device also affected by the weather like heavy clouds and rain, and so on?

  4. Okay, I’m not sure if you have a navigation device or a tracking device. What brand and model is it?

  5. Thanks for your reply. It is tracking device. I bought it from China, and it is no special brand and model number, but I can show you the link: I bought the model TK102.

  6. Kim,
    The device reports back (transmits) via cellular signal. I’m not sure how much these are affected by weather, but it could be an issue.
    On the (GPS) reception side, while clouds and fog will not affect it, condensation / moisture collecting on your car can. Metal blocks signals as well, so locating the device in a window will help.
    When carrying it outside the car, be aware that your body will block signals too. A mesh pocket of a daypack is often a good location, but in ideal conditions, a purse may work fine. The further from your body the better.
    All these blocking materials (metal, your body) become much worse if the container carrying the device (purse, car, etc.) has a thin film of moisture on it.
    The specs say the device has a SiRFstar III chipset, which generally has excellent performance under tough conditions.
    Hope this helps.

  7. hi rich, thanks so much for your kind detail response. Actually the celluar signal working good no matter clouds or not, it can feed back SMS anytime ,but the latitude and longitude data is wrong or no. And please be noted it can work normally if the weather is good without cloud or light cloud. That’s I suspect it may affected by the weather. And in the testing time, I already pay attention the possibility blocking factor. After read your articl, I am confused now.

  8. Sorry Kim. I’ve about exhausted the possibilities that I know of. I suppose the device could have some very poor quality chipset firmware. You might want to discuss the issue with the manufacturer or retailer.

  9. Bally Sharma says:

    in rainy weather unable to access GPS coordinates using android, facing this problem…
    i have try to access GPS from different-different device but can`t access, only getting null value for latitude and longitude…Why?
    don`t understand why?
    i have making GPS based Android application so facing this problem bcs this is rainy weather time.
    can anybody explain me that how to access GPS coordinate in rainy weather…?
    Before this weather google maps draw driving route path between two geo points successfully but in the rainy weather google maps showing successfully but not drawing driving route path…Why?
    waiting for anybody`s nice response….
    in advance thank u,

  10. Alli Gessner says:

    As a manager of a dog walking company in Chicago which recently adopted GPS tracking technology, I’m wondering if the lack of GPS signal from some walkers can be attributed to the snowfall that’s happening today or the placement of the phone they’re using as the tracking device? How much would this effect the ability to track the signal? Do you know of any good all-weather solutions to keep a GPS device dry/safe but also more able to see the satellites?
    Thanks for your help!

    • Snow or a thin film of water on the device could possibly impact reception. The best thing to do would be to keep it in a pocket or daypack (a top pack pocket is ideal). I would suggest trying this a time or two to see if it helps.

  11. Important topic.

  12. Hi Rich. Did i get it clear..GPS through cellphones are connected through celltowers and independent GPS device( like those in cars ) relies only on satelits ?

    • So it means that bad weather can couse cellphone based GPS but not built in auto GPS or some real independent GPS device…

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