Weather service models running on new, vastly more powerful supercomputer

Satellite image of Hurricane Irene (2011).  The NWS expects better hurricane forecasts from new supercomputer.

Satellite image of Hurricane Irene (2011). The NWS expects better hurricane forecasts from new supercomputer.

The nation’s major weather forecasting models are now working their magic on a new supercomputing powerhouse.

On Thursday, the National Weather Service (NWS) shifted its operational models onto a supercomputer more than double the power of its predecessor, capable of performing 213 trillion calculations per second.

“[These improvements] lay the foundation for further computing enhancements and more accurate forecast models that are within reach,” says Louis Uccellini, NWS director.

The shift occurred after an extensive testing phase, to ensure forecasts simulated on the new machine were virtually indistinguishable from the old one.

“This comparative testing involved examining output data to determine whether it is numerically reproducible out to five decimal places,” explains Computer World. “There is also a statistical analysis of weather predictions on the new system against the actual weather conditions.”

Related: New Weather Service supercomputer faces chaos

The models are running on a machine nicknamed “Tide” residing in Reston and are backed up by its companion “Gyre”, housed in Orlando.

The immediate benefit of the more powerful computing is the ability to run an enhanced version of the Hurricane Weather Research (HWRF) model, which has shown a 15 percent improvement in forecasts for the track and intensity of tropical weather systems, NWS says.

While the current versions of Tide and Gyre represent a big jump in computing power from their predecessors, the surge in the NWS’ supercomputing power remains in the pipeline.

“Next comes the quantum leap,” says Uccellini. “That gives us the necessary computer power to run an enhanced version of our primary forecast model, the Global Forecast System.”

By the summer of 2015, the NWS’ supercomputing power is projected to be 1,950 teraflops, up from 213 teraflops effective Thursday and 90 teraflops prior.

The NWS has entered into a bit of an arms race with the European Center for Medium-range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF), which currently runs the more powerful and, overall, more accurate global forecasting model. Following news of NWS’ planned computing upgrades in May, the ECMWF entered into a contract with supercomputer builder Cray to buy two new machines.

“The speed of these systems is not being disclosed but a Cray spokesman said “it will be a petascale system”,” Computing World reports.

The question is now: Will the NWS make the next move to attempt to keep up….?

Related reading:

NOAA goes ‘live’ with new weather supercomputers

Senator Mikulski touts National Weather Service computer upgrades

Game-changing improvements in the works for U.S. weather prediction

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