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National Weather Service more than doubles computing capacity

This is the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) model showing the Tropical Storm Flossie precipitation forecast for the Hawaiian Islands on July 29, 2013.

This is the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) model showing the Tropical Storm Flossie precipitation forecast for the Hawaiian Islands on July 29, 2013. HWRF is one of the sophisticated numerical computer models now being run on NOAA's new supercomputers.

Download here (Credit: NOAA)

Whizzing through 213 trillion calculations per second, newly upgraded supercomputers of NOAA’s National Weather Service are now more than twice as fast in processing sophisticated computer models to provide more accurate forecasts further out in time. And as the hurricane season ramps up, forecasters will be armed with an enhanced hurricane model that will improve track and intensity forecasts.

The scientific data and insights that these newly upgraded supercomputers will provide are essential to help government officials, communities, and businesses better understand and manage the risks associated with extreme weather and water events. In support of the president’s Climate Action Plan, the administration will continue to take steps like this to analyze and predict climate variability amid an increasing number of extreme natural events affecting the nation.

“These improvements are just the beginning and build on our previous success. They lay the foundation for further computing enhancements and more accurate forecast models that are within reach,” said Louis W. Uccellini, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “These upgrades are a game-changer for the entire public and private weather industry. In addition to the benefits to our own forecasters and products, we will provide our private sector partners with better information to empower them to enhance their services.”

Nicknamed “Tide,” the supercomputer in Reston, Va., and its Orlando-based backup named “Gyre,” are operating with 213 teraflops (TF) — up from the 90 TF with the computers that preceded them. This higher processing power allows the National Weather Service to implement an enhanced Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) model.

These forecasting advances can save lives,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who helped get funding to add even more capacity to the supercomputer. “It's going to allow for better tracking of life-threatening storms and more accurately predict when and where they'll hit, and with what intensity.

With improved physics and a storm-tracking algorithm, the model has displayed up to a 15 percent improvement in both track and intensity forecasts, compared to last year's version of the model. The upgraded HWRF is also capable of processing real-time data collected from the inner core of a tropical system by the tail Doppler radar attached to NOAA’s P3 hurricane hunter aircraft, data which are expected to produce even greater forecast improvements.

“Next comes the quantum leap,” added Uccellini. Following this round of long-planned upgrades, funding requested in the FY 2014 President’s Budget, in addition to funding provided to NOAA by Congress in the spring of 2013 as part of the Hurricane Sandy emergency supplemental appropriations bill, would increase computing power even further to 1,950 TF by summer 2015. “That gives us the necessary computer power to run an enhanced version of our primary forecast model, the Global Forecast System,” said Uccellini.

Given recent events like the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma or Superstorm Sandy, federal weather resources and personnel should be considered vital national assets. These upgrades assure world-class capabilities and a continued pathway to keep American lives and property safer, said J. Marshall Shepherd Ph.D., president of the American Meteorological Society and Professor at the University of Georgia. As a father of two children and a scientist that understands looming weather threats, I take comfort in these developments.

Investments in supercomputing power for weather prediction are another step in NOAA’s efforts to build a Weather-Ready Nation. NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation initiative, launched nearly two-years ago, has resulted in improvements in products, services and the way information is communicated to the public and partners. These improvements increase resilience to severe weather and reduce the potential of significant societal and economic impacts from severe weather.  A Weather-Ready Nation is a society that is prepared for, and responds effectively to, weather-related events.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.