Think Winter Weather Might Knock Out Your Internet? Here’s What To Do

Think Winter Weather Might Knock Out Your Internet? Here’s What To Do

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

As a lifelong resident of the Carolinas, I’ve seen my share of severe weather, though my experiences may pale in comparison to the blizzards or violent thunderstorms in other parts of the country. 

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Even with the relatively mild conditions here, bad weather has been to blame for temporarily losing my internet connection more than once. Snow, ice, rain and even heavy cloud coverage can interfere with your internet service, depending on the type of internet connection you have.

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Satellite internet is the most vulnerable to service disruptions due to weather. But those with a fixed wireless or 5G home internet connection may experience weather-related internet issues as well. CableDSL and fiber internet connections are far more reliable, but a particularly bad storm with the potential to knock out the electricity could affect the internet in your area and in your home. 

Before an internet outage rains on your parade, it’s important to know what to expect of your service ahead of impending bad weather, and what preventive measures you can take to lower the chances you’ll have issues. (We’ve also got a guide for how to break up with your home internet provider, and how to tell if your Wi-Fi router is in the wrong spot.) 

Satellite internet is the most vulnerable to bad weather

Perhaps not surprisingly, you’re most likely to encounter service disruptions due to snow and ice, heavy rain and thick cloud coverage with satellite internet

Satellite signals have to travel quite a distance to get from the orbiting satellite — which often flies some 22 thousand miles or more above the ground — to your home. Any obstruction along the way, such as rainfall or heavy cloud cover and the signal-dispersing water droplets that come with them, can disrupt your internet service.

Not only that, but the dish itself can get bogged down with snow and ice, which, while less likely to cause problems than heavy rain or cloud coverage, can still affect your service.

Rooftop satellite dish covered with snow

Will your internet survive the next thunderstorm?

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What to do about snow and ice

Rain and clouds will eventually pass, but snow and ice can linger for days or weeks in some areas. A light dusting of snow or thin layer of ice will probably have little to no effect on your internet service, but a significant accumulation of an inch or more (here in the South, an inch is indeed significant) could cause a problem.

When snow or ice builds up on your satellite dish and affects your internet service, you may be able to remove it on your own — so long as you can do it safely. It’s not uncommon for satellite dishes to sit atop a roof, deck railing or other hard-to-reach spot, which can make accessing and cleaning it difficult and dangerous, especially in icy conditions. Do not attempt to clear snow or ice from your dish if you cannot access it safely.

If you can safely reach your dish, try removing the snow by hand or with a soft-bristle brush, such as a hand broom. Be gentle and try to avoid pushing or moving the dish as doing so, even by a few centimeters, can knock the dish out of position and lower signal quality or lose the signal altogether. Additionally, you’ll want to avoid using anything that may scratch the surface, such as a windshield scraper, to keep from damaging the dish. 

In the case of ice accumulation, applying a little warm water will usually remedy the problem. For best results, and to keep from moving the dish or damaging any internal components, use a spray bottle to apply a light stream of warm water until the ice is gone or internet service returns. Again, you’ll want to avoid using anything that could damage or move the dish, like an ice scraper.

Won’t dish heaters or covers do the job for me?

It’s often said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I don’t know if that’s fully the case with satellite dish heaters and covers, but they’re worth a shot. 

You’re probably going to get the best results with a dish heater. Starlink dishes come with a built-in heater (much to the delight of cold-weather kitties who might be tempted to turn your dish into a personal oasis), but you can purchase one online for HughesNet or Viasat for a couple of hundred bucks, too. Keep in mind that they’ll also add a bit to your electricity bill, but most devices have a temperature gauge and kick on automatically when needed to prevent snow and ice accumulation, which helps keep energy consumption low. 

Satellite dish covers are a cheaper option, but they’re typically less effective. You’ll have no problem finding a dish cover for less than $50 online, but results may be short-lived. Dish covers can accumulate dirt, dust and pollen, creating a prime surface for snow and ice, so you may still be clearing your dish manually, even with a dish cover. 

Heavy rain and cloud coverage are satellite’s kryptonite

Installing a rain guard to shield your satellite dish may seem like a simple solution to prevent temporary outages, but they’re unfortunately unlikely to help. 

Since the satellite signals have to travel miles to reach your home, they can encounter service-disrupting conditions anywhere along the way, not just in the vicinity of your dish. That’s why you may experience weather-related internet outages even if it’s not raining or cloudy directly above your home. It’s also why a rain guard won’t help prevent connectivity issues. If anything, installing a solid surface over or around your dish could block the signal, too, which may lead to even more service disruptions.

So in the case of an internet outage due to rain or cloud coverage, there’s not much you can do other than wait for it to pass and service to resume. It’s not all bad news, however, as satellite providers have made improvements in recent years to minimize the effect bad weather has on your internet connection.

Design and technology improvements by HughesNet and Viasat, such as smaller, sleeker dishes and stronger internet signals, have helped reduce satellite internet’s vulnerability to rain and cloud coverage. You’ll also find innovative satellite technology with Starlink, which features an improved dish design along with low-orbit satellite technology to help reduce outages due to weather. while also vastly improving speeds, latency and overall performance. That’s not to say weather-related service disruptions won’t occur with satellite internet; they’re just not as common as they may have been in the past.

Fixed wireless and 5G internet aren’t totally in the clear

Over-the-air internet services like fixed-wireless internet and 5G home internet are susceptible to many of the same service disruptions as satellite internet, but on a smaller scale. 

With both services, internet signals travel far shorter distances, typically only five to 10 miles at most, so there’s a lesser chance of encountering bad weather along the way. Additionally, fixed wireless and cellular towers used for 5G aren’t miles above the Earth, meaning heavy cloud coverage shouldn’t affect service.

Heavy rain, on the other hand, can be another matter. Fixed wireless internet works by beaming internet signals in a straight line, or fixed position, between the tower and your home. Anything that interferes with that signal, such as a seasonal downpour, can disrupt the signal and hence your internet connection. 

Rain is less of an issue with 5G home internet services like T-Mobile or Verizon because, unlike with fixed-wireless internet, 5G works by sending signals in all directions. Even if some signals are blocked or diverted due to rain or snowfall, others are still bound to reach your equipment and keep your internet going, though the signal may not be as strong.

Snow and ice are also less of a concern with 5G as there is no external receiver. Fixed wireless service, however, requires mounting a dish or receiver (though often much smaller than a satellite dish) which could accumulate frozen precipitation. Heaters and covers are harder to come by for fixed wireless equipment, so you may need to manually remove any build-ups if they interfere with your internet connection.

A woman stands on the stage at WWDC with Charter Spectrum's logo behind her

Charter’s Spectrum cable service is the third biggest by subscribers in the US — it’s also CNET’s favorite cable internet provider overall. 

Screenshot by Sarah Tew/CNET

What about cable, DSL and fiber?

Cable, DSL and fiber lines run directly to your home, so they aren’t nearly as susceptible to weather disruptions as over-the-air delivery methods such as satellite, fixed wireless and 5G. Rain, snow and cloud cover won’t have an impact on your internet service, aside from extreme cases where a line gets damaged over time due to exposure. 

The greatest threat to your cable, DSL or fiber internet during bad weather is a power outage. Losing power in your home will likely render your modem and router inoperable, meaning that, even if an internet signal is still running to your home, you won’t be able to use it unless your equipment has a battery backup. 

And if a power outage hits your provider, you may be out of luck. Severe weather can knock out a provider’s servers or systems that deliver the internet, resulting in widespread outages. So even if the power isn’t out at your home, bad weather may still affect your internet connection. Worse yet, there won’t be anything you can do about it other than wait for service to be restored.

There’s also the slight possibility of electrical surges interfering with cable or DSL internet signals, which are carried along by highly conductive copper cables, and affecting your connection quality. Chances of that happening are higher on older DSL networks compared to newer cable internet systems, but the risk is still relatively low across both service types.

How weather affects your internet FAQ

Can I use weather-proofing sprays on my satellite dish?

It’s not recommended to use any type of chemical coating on your satellite dish, including weather-resistant or proofing sprays, cooking sprays (to prevent snow from sticking) or anything else not intended for use on a satellite dish. In addition to potentially damaging the surface of the dish, many sprays could attract dirt, dust and pollen, creating a surface more prone to accumulating snow or ice.

Do I need to clean my satellite dish?

Cleaning your dish is often not needed other than for maintaining curb appeal. As mentioned above, clearing your dish of dirt and other deposits may help keep snow and ice from building up, but it won’t typically otherwise improve performance.

If you do decide to clean your satellite dish, do so gently using a soft sponge and warm water. Avoid using any cleaning products aside from mild dish detergent, as harsh chemicals may damage the surface of your dish. Ideally, you wouldn’t want to clean your dish with anything you wouldn’t use to clean your TV screen. 

Will extreme heat affect my internet service?

As with bad thunderstorms, extreme heat has relatively no impact on internet signals, but may affect the systems that carry them. Increased energy demands during a heat wave put an extra strain on electrical grids, which could affect internet service at your home or somewhere along the way.

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