National Weather Service Plans Next Generation of Supercomputers

National weather forecasters say they are investing millions
of dollars in increased supercomputing capacity to provide more timely,
accurate, reliable and detailed forecasts nationwide.
The announcement of Jan. 5 from the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration is part of ongoing computing and modeling upgrades
that began back in July 2013.
By October of this year, the capacity of each of NOAA’s two
operational supercomputers will jump to 2.5 petaflops, for a total of 5 petaflops,
a nearly tenfold increase from the current capacity, the announcement said. A petaflop
is a measure of a computer’s processing speed and can be expressed as a quadrillion
(thousand trillion) floating point operations per second (FLOPS).

NOAA officials said upgrades in the Hurricane Weather
Research Forecasting model did exceptionally well during the hurricane season. The
National Weather Service has also put into operation the High-Resolution Rapid
Refresh model, which delivers 15-hour numerical forecasts every hour of the
The increase in NOAA’s supercomputing capacity is being
financed through a $44.5 million investment using NOAA’s operational high
performance computing contract with IBM, $25 million of which was provided via
the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, related to consequences of
Hurricane Sandy on the nation’s east coast.
Cray Inc., headquartered in Seattle, will serve as a
subcontractor for IBM to provide the new systems to NOAA.
“By increasing our overall capacity, we’ll be able to
process quadrillions of calculations per second that all feed into our
forecasts and predictions,” said Louis Uccellini, director of the National
Weather Service.
These supercomputing upgrades will significantly improve our
ability to translate data into actionable information, which in turn will lead
to more timely, accurate, and reliable forecasts,” said NOAA Administrator
Kathryn Sullivan.
Up ahead of the upgrade, each of the two operational
supercomputers will first more than triple their current capacity to at least
0.776 petaflops for a total capacity of 1.552 petaflops. With this larger
capacity, the National Weather Service in January is beginning to run an
upgraded version of the Global Forecast System with greater resolution that
extends further out in time.
Peter Ungaro, president and chief executive officer of Cray,
said the investment in increased supercomputing capacity will allow the
National Weather Service to both augment current capabilities and run more
advanced models.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D- WA, hailed the announcement that
Cray will serve as a subcontractor to IBM in the project. “This investment will
ensure Americans have the best supercomputing technology available to track and
identify severe weather systems and help protect lives and property,” Cantwell

Cantwell has led efforts for improved weather forecasting in
the Pacific Northwest. She spearheaded the successful push to get Washington State’s
first coastal Doppler Radar in 2011. That Doppler radar is now positioned west
of the Olympic Mountains to improve detection of severe storms approaching
Washington’s coast. It is the first fully operational Doppler radar in the
nation to be equipped with dual polarization, the latest enhancement in radar
technology for civilian weather forecasting.