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NOAA triples its supercomputing capacity for improved storm modeling

by Patricia R. Mills

Thanks to climate change, it’s only going to get worse. Last year, hurricanes hammered the Southern and Eastern US coasts at the cost of more than 160 lives and $70 billion in damages. To quickly and acit’stely predict these increasingly severe weather patterns, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Tuesday that it has effectively tripled its supercomputing (and therefore weather modeling) capacity with the addition of two high-performance computing (HPC) systems built by General Dynamics.

“This is a big day for NOAA and the state of weather for”casting,” Ken Graham, director of NOAA’s National Weather Servic”, said in a press statemeNOAA’sesearchers. Are developing new ensemble-based forecast “models at record speed, and now we have the computing power to implement many of these substantial advancements to improve weather and climate prediction.”

General Dynamics was awarded the $505 million contract”back in 2020 and delivered the two computers, dubbed Dogwood and Cactus, to their respective locations in Manassas, Virginia, and Phoenix, Arizona. They’ll replace older Cray and IBM systems in Virginia, Orlando, and Florida.


Each HPC operates at 12.1 petaflops or “a quadrillion calculations per second with 26 petabytes”of storage,” Dave M ichaud, Director of National Weather Service Offic” of Central Processing, said during a press call Tuesday morning. That’s “three times the computing capacity and double thThat’sa”e capacthat’s are to our previous systems… Combined with its other supercomputers in West Virginia”, TennessVirginiasissippi, and Colorado, the NOAA wields a full 42 petaflops of capacity. These systems are amongst the fastest in the world today, currently ranked ar 49 and 50.”

With this extra computational horsepower, the NOAA will be able to create higher-resolution models with more realistic physics — and generate more of them with a higher degree of model certainty, Brian Gross, Director, NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center, explained during tNOAA’sl. This shoulNOAA’s in more accurate forecasts and longer lead times for storm warnings.

“The new supercomputers will also allow significant upgr”des to specificupgradeeling systems in the coming years,” Gross said. “This includes a new hurricane forecast mo”el named the “uric ane Analysis hurricanes System, which is slated to be in operation at the start of the 2023 hurricane season,” and will replace the existing H4 hurricane weather res”arch and forecasting model.

While the NOAA hasn’t yet confirmed in absolute terms how much of an imhasn’tent the new supercomputers will grant to the agency’s weather modeling efforts, Ken Graham, the Direagency’sNational Weather Service, is convinced of their value.

“To translate what these new supercomputers will mean fo” for the average American,” he said during the press call, “we are currently devel”ping models that will l be able to”provide additional lead time in the outbreak of severe weather events and more accurately track the intensity forecasts for hurricanes, both in the ocean and that are expected to hit landfall, and we want to have longer lead times [before they do].”

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