Tromping around the city on your cell phone is always an adventurous experience no matter which carrier you use, or type of phone you have. After all, we're basically surrounded by signal-unfriendly concrete and have been ranked the worst in the country for cell phone service. But how does the weather affect our cell phone nuggets? Gothamist prefers "nuggets" to the all-too-boring "bars" description of signal strength.
Cell phones are basically a type of 2-way radio and they use a high enough frequency to need "line of sight" to get reception. Reception is affected by heavy rain (or snow). While extremely dry air can be detrimental as well since radio signals travel better through moist air. So you escape the gridlock of midtown and head for the green right? Well, your walk in the park can be a completely different experience if you go in the spring versus the fall. Foliage attenuation is also a factor. Trees and foliage can block out a cell phone signal especially water-rich leaves. Gothamist wishes there was something called musclehead attenuation for the guys who inflict us with their Nextel conversations with their buds about their evening escapades while on the treadmill at NYSC.
There are occasionally situations where theoretically you could experience tropospheric ducting where certain atmospheric conditions cause radio frequencies to travel over much longer distances thus providing you with a signal from a cell tower far away. These conditions are most frequent during the spring and summer months and are mostly taken advantage of by Ham radio operators. This would likely cause problems for us as most cell towers are specifically laid out and programmed to not overlap frequencies. When frequencies are overlapped, it causes interference and end result, your call to Ray's Pizza isn't going through.
Also, those nuggets on your phone are no scientific meter either. There's no standard between manufacturers saying how much "signal" each nugget has to represent, nor is there any standard as to exactly what "signal" means. So just because you have 3 nuggets and your techno-geek friend has 4 nuggets, doesn't mean his phone is better or that he is actually getting a better signal.
Gothamist enjoys those surreal moments sitting in a subway underground at the West 4th street station, when a sliver of signal reaches down and someone's cell phone rings on the train. While everyone looks around in amazement, the surreal moment gives way to reality as the lucky receiver yells over and over... "Hello? Can you hear me? Hello?"