NOAA triples its supercomputing capacity for improved storm modeling

Last year, hurricanes battered the US south and east coasts, killing more than 160 people and causing $70 billion in damage. Thanks to climate change, it’s only going to get worse. To quickly and accurately predict these worsening weather patterns, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Tuesday that it is increasing its supercomputing (and therefore weather modeling) capacity with the addition of two High-Performance Computing (HPC ) has effectively tripled. General Dynamics systems.

“This is a big day for NOAA and the state of weather forecasting,” said Ken Graham, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, in a press statement. “Researchers are developing new ensemble-based forecasting models at record speed, and now we have the computing power needed to implement many of these significant advances in improving weather and climate prediction.”

General Dynamics was awarded the $505 million contract in 2020 and shipped the two computers, named Dogwood and Cactus, to their respective locations in Manassas, Virginia and Phoenix, Arizona. They will replace two older Cray and IBM systems in Reston, Virginia and Orlando, Florida.

Each HPC operates at 12.1 petaflops, or “one quadrillion calculations per second with 26 petabytes of memory,” said Dave Michaud, director of the National Weather Service Office of Central Processing, during a press briefing Tuesday morning. That’s “three times the computing power and twice the storage capacity of our previous systems… These systems are among the fastest in the world today, currently ranked 49th and 50th.” Along with its other supercomputers in West Virginia, Tennessee, and Mississippi Colorado, NOAA has a capacity of 42 petaflops.

With this additional processing power, NOAA will be able to create models with higher resolution and more realistic physics — and generate more of them with a higher degree of model confidence, explained Brian Gross, director of NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center, during the call. This should lead to more accurate forecasts and longer lead times for storm warnings.

“The new supercomputers will also enable significant upgrades for specific modeling systems in the coming years,” said Gross. “This includes a new hurricane forecasting model called the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System, which is scheduled to become operational at the start of the 2023 hurricane season” and will replace the existing H4 hurricane weather research and forecasting model.

While NOAA has yet to confirm in absolute terms how much improvement the new supercomputers will bring to the agency’s weather modeling efforts, Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service, is convinced of their value.

“In order to translate what these new supercomputers will mean for the average American,” he said during the press briefing, “we are currently developing models that will be able to provide additional lead times in the onset of severe weather events and more accurately track intensity forecasts for.” Hurricanes, both in the ocean and on land, are expected to hit and we want longer lead times [before they do].”

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