Weather forecasting made (slightly) easier with updated NOAA system

The National Weather Service could offer more accurate long-term forecasts by October

NOAA's supercomputer upgrades will provide more timely, accurate weather forecasts.

NOAA's supercomputer upgrades will provide more timely, accurate weather forecasts.

To better anticipate the next Sandy-size hurricane, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is upgrading the supercomputers it uses for predicting the weather.

By October, the agency will have 10 times as much computing power to devote to predicting the weather as it does today, thanks to a $44.5 million upgrade of two supercomputer systems now being carried out by IBM and subcontractor Cray.

Part of the cost of the upgrade has been funded by a $25 million allocation from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, passed by Congress after Sandy hit the East Coast in October 2012. The severity of the hurricane surprised many meteorologists, and NOAA's National Weather Service was criticized for not predicting the storm with as much accuracy as did a European weather agency.

When the upgrade is finished, the two NOAA supercomputers will each be able to execute more than 5 petaflops (quadrillion floating point operations per second). The new gear will allow NOAA to update its weather forecasting software to achieve greater accuracy, the agency said.

Today, the agency can predict weather patterns up to 10 days in advance within an area, or what it calls a resolution, of 27 kilometers (16.77 miles), meaning each prediction covers a 27 square kilometer area. With the new equipment in place, it can sharpen the resolution to 13 kilometers (a little over 8.07 miles).

In general, the smaller the area of resolution, the more accurate the forecast will be, a NOAA spokesman said.

Weather prediction is a computationally intensive task, one that involves the analysis of how many separate variables could interact.

"The number of computations go up very, very quickly as you increase the resolution," said Per Nyberg, senior director of worldwide business development at Cray. Simply doubling the resolution will require eight times the computation. "You get into exponential increases.

"Any weather service could use any computational power you give it," Nyberg said. Cray, which specializes in supercomputers that can be easily scaled out, counts weather services among its most ardent customers.

On the software side, NOAA's National Weather Service has been refining its forecasting models as well. The agency's Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting model accurately charted the approach of Hurricane Arthur, which menaced North Carolina last year. It has also pressed into service the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh model, which now delivers 15-hour forecasts each hour.

NOAA, which is part of the United States Department of Commerce, is also in the process of updating its satellite system for watching weather patterns from space. The new satellites are due to be operational in 2017.

Although the National Weather Service offers a range of weather forecasts and alerts directly to the public free of charge, its material is most widely distributed through reuse by commercial services, ranging from television stations to online weather sites.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags popular sciencesupercomputersGovernment use of ITHigh performanceIBMhardware systemsCraygovernment

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Joab Jackson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?