What is “rain fade” and is it a big problem with satellite TV?

Rain fade is the term for interruption in your satellite service due to bad weather, whether it’s raining, snowing, or doing something else. The weather in front of your dish is so intense that it just can’t let in the signals.

Is rain fade a real problem? Obviously if you’re experiencing it, it is. But realistically both DIRECTV and DISH have over 99% uptime in the markets they serve, and it’s’rare to see more than a minute or two of rain fade even in the worst weather. If you see consistent rain fade, especially when it’s not raining that hard, something else may be at fault – possibly the dish is out of alignment or there is some corrosion in the cable or its ends.

What can you do about rain fade?

Getting rid of rain fade usually involves simply waiting it out. When the storm subsides, so will the rain fade. Adding an antenna to your home theater can help you get past those few incidents when it happens. Spending some time with a satellite meter adjusting your dish for the best possible signal will help.

In fact, in most areas you can eliminate rain fade completely or cut it down to one or two instances a year with careful satellite aiming. If your dish is off by 1/32″ in its aim, that means it’s looking at a patch of sky that’s 30 miles off from where it should. Satellites orbit the earth at a distance of 22,000 miles above mean sea level and when you think about it that way it’s pretty impressive that you get any signal at all with a dish that’s only three feet in size. Using a satellite meter and making extremely small adjustments can often help you find the right solution for rain fade.

It’s called “dithering the dish”

Dithering is the technique that professionals use to find the exact center of a satellite beam. It’s one of those things that’s easier to teach when you’re actually going hands-on but it boils down to these steps:

  1. Choose a direction to try to adjust. Generally azimuth (compass heading) is the first, then elevation (pointing the dish toward or away from the ground) followed by tilt.
  2. Turn one of the adjustment screws a tiny bit and see if satellite signals get stronger. If they get weaker, turn in the opposite direction. If they get weaker in both directions then you’re aimed as well as you can.
  3. Keep turning one quarter turn at a time until the signal peaks and starts to go back down. Then turn back one quarter turn.
  4. Proceed to the next direction until the dish is completely peaked.
  5. Finally, tighten everything down to minimize any movement from the dish.

What about an amplifier or a larger dish?

Satellite dishes have built-in amplifiers. Generally adding another amplifier isn’t needed unless you are running long cable lengths. A satellite amplifier isn’t going to help with rain fade, for the most part.

A lot of people think that moving to a larger dish, like the Alaska/Hawaii dish used by DIRECTV, will help. Generally the improvement is less than 5% and the cost to implement these gigantic dishes can be really high. I don’t recommend using the AK/HI dish, as you can usually get at least 5% improvement by properly aiming the dish.

Rain fade is usually very temporary, but in the winter months, stormy days can lead to snow on the dish. While some folks recommend a broom or leafblower, we don’t recommend anything that can hurt your dish or throw it out of alignment. We suggest the use of a dish heater which will automatically keep your dish free of snow.