NOAA Weather-Forecast Supercomputers Get Huge Upgrade

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Given that the weather is ultimately produced by the confluence of thousands of climatological factors that can all be measured, it is theoretically possible to create models to accurately forecast virtually all weather phenomena. When you add in the proliferation of real-time weather data now available almost anywhere in the world, the only real limitations on weather forecasts today are the modeling software and the processing power of the supercomputers running these massive meteorological models.

Related to this, the United States National Oceanographic and Atmospsheric Agency announced the next phase in the agency’s efforts to increase supercomputing capacity around a year ago. The new Cray supercomputers have just come on line recently, boosting NOAA’s two operational supercomputers to 2.5 petaflops each, an almost 1000% increase from the earlier devices.

Statements on new NOAA Cray supercomputers

“NOAA is America’s environmental intelligence agency; we provide the information, data, and services communities need to become resilient to significant and severe weather, water, and climate events,” commented Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA’s Administrator. “These supercomputing upgrades will significantly improve our ability to translate data into actionable information, which in turn will lead to more timely, accurate, and reliable forecasts.”

“We continue to make significant, critical investments in our supercomputers and observational platforms,” noted Louis Uccellini, Ph.D., director of the National Weather Service. “By increasing our overall capacity, we’ll be able to process quadrillions of calculations per second that all feed into our forecasts and predictions. This boost in processing power is essential as we work to improve our numerical prediction models for more accurate and consistent forecasts required to build a Weather Ready Nation.”

Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray, expressed his enthusiasm about working with the NOAA: “We are excited to provide NOAA’s National Weather Service with advanced supercomputing capabilities for running operational weather forecasts with greater detail and precision. This investment to increase their supercomputing capacity will allow the National Weather Service to both augment current capabilities and run more advanced models. We are honored these forecasts will be prepared using Cray supercomputers.”

NWS has upgraded weather forecasting models

With this larger capacity, the National Weather Service is using an upgraded version of the Global Forecast System with greater resolution extending longer out in time – the new system will boost resolution from 27 km to 13 km out to 10 days and 55 km to 33 km for 11 to 16 days. In addition, the NWS’s Global Ensemble Forecast System has been upgraded by increasing the number of vertical levels from 42 to 64 and increasing the horizontal resolution from 55 km to 27 km out to eight days and 70 km to 33 km from nine days to 16 days.

These NOAA supercomputer capacity upgrades are part of an ongoing upgrade program that began in July 2013. The National Weather Service has upgraded almost all of its existing models, and has also operationalized the highly acclaimed High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model, which automatically provides 15-hour forecasts hourly throughout the day.

The boost in supercomputing capacity comes thanks to a $44.5 million contract with IBM, who has appointed Cray Inc. (based in Seattle) as the subcontractor to provide the new systems to NOAA.

Of note, Cray supercomputers are involved in weather forecasting in over 60% of global weather centers, including the UK’s national weather service, Germany’s national meteorological service and the U.S. NOAA / NWS.

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