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Powerful Supercomputers Boost ­.s. Weather Forecasts


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NOAA supercomputer banks

NOAA uses IBM supercomputers for climate and weather forecasts.

Credit: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has completed implementation of the final phase of a nine year, $180 million contract by installing the newest generation of IBM supercomputers for weather and climate prediction. The primary system, "Stratus," and its backup, "Cirrus," will allow NOAA to run more complex models in an effort to improve forecast accuracy and extend watch and warning lead times for severe weather, including hurricanes, tornadoes, air quality, wildfires, floods, tsunamis and winter storms.

"This new technology will provide us with more sophisticated models of the earth's land, ocean and atmosphere, giving meteorologists better accuracy and precision in both long-term and short-term forecasting," says Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service at NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. "More accurate weather forecasts allow the National Weather Service to warn individual citizens and whole communities about impending dangerous weather well in advance so they can take action to protect lives and property."

The new supercomputers, based on IBM Power 575 Systems, are four times faster than the previous system, with the ability to make 69.7 trillion calculations per second. Higher computation speed allows meteorologists to rapidly refine and update severe weather forecasts as dangerous weather develops and threatens U.S. communities. Billions of bytes of weather observations are fed into the system each day, including temperature, wind, precipitation, atmospheric pressure, and other oceanographic and satellite information taken from the ground, air, sea and space.

Additional facts about Stratus:

  • The microprocessors inside Stratus contain 2,000 miles of copper wiring, enough to stretch from Washington, D.C. to the Grand Canyon.
  • It would take one person with a calculator 3 million years to tabulate the number of calculations that Stratus can perform in a single second.
  • Stratus would fit in half the size of a tennis court.
  • Stratus is 34 times more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer in existence a decade ago.

 


 

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