Supercomputing

Better computers, better weather forecasts

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's latest upgrades for its two operational supercomputers will result in a nearly tenfold computing power increase by October -- yielding a total of five petaflops -- that will greatly improve NOAA's forecasting ability.

NOAA is launching the upgrade this month by tripling the supercomputers' capacity, enabling the National Weather Service to run an upgraded version of the Global Forecast System with improved resolution that extends further out in time.

That should mean improved reliability, accuracy and overall quality of both daily and future weather forecasting for the public.

The updates will also make NOAA's supercomputers among "the most powerful computers in the word," according to NWS spokesman Christopher Vaccaro, running trillions of calculations per second.

"We're looking to raise the bar," Vaccaro said. "Day-to-day weather can impact lives so significantly, if the research and science allows us to improve forecasts then we're going to take those steps and invest in the hardware infrastructure."

Working with the Seattle-based supercomputing firm Cray, IBM is the main contractor on the $44.5 million project, which was partly funded by $25 million provided to NOAA by the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief measure in 2013. The machines are located in Northern Virginia and Orlando, Fla.

NOAA used the supercomputers to begin implementing upgrades in 2013 to the National Weather Service's models, including the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting model.

According to NOAA, the new models did "exceptionally well" in the 2014 hurricane season, including for Hurricane Arthur, which struck North Carolina in July, the earliest known storm ever to make landfall in the state.

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.

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