Supercomputing Weather Forecasting

Introduction

The Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have made a significant stride in improving the nation’s weather forecasting capabilities. This week, they announced a substantial expansion of the Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System (WCOSS), boosting its computing power and storage capacity by 20%. This upgrade promises to enhance forecast accuracy, extend forecasting capabilities, and improve the overall understanding of weather and climate phenomena for years to come.

A Quantum Leap in Computing Power

NOAA’s investment in high-performance computing is poised to yield remarkable dividends for U.S. weather modeling. The increased computing power and storage capacity will allow NOAA to execute more complex forecast models and assimilate vast amounts of data into the system, opening the door to numerous advancements in weather prediction.

Upgraded Forecast Models

  1. U.S. Global Forecast System: One of the most notable upgrades will be to the U.S. Global Forecast System. This enhancement will boost the model’s horizontal resolution from 13 kilometers to an impressive nine kilometers. A higher resolution will enable the system to better capture smaller-scale features, resulting in improved model accuracy and performance.
  2. Rapid Refresh Forecast System: The expansion in computing capacity facilitates the implementation of the Rapid Refresh Forecast System, which can incorporate larger ensembles and a more extensive dataset. This leads to increased confidence in specific forecasts, empowering better decision-making processes. Moreover, these updates enable the utilization of advanced high-resolution data-assimilation techniques.
  3. Global Ensemble Forecast System: The upgraded system will provide more accurate predictions by enhancing its capability to model radiatively active aerosols. This improvement will enable the system to better simulate emissions like wildfire smoke, dust, and fog, ultimately leading to more precise forecasts.
  4. Operational Advancements through Research: The increased compute power and storage will support the implementation of research and development advancements made through NOAA’s Earth Prediction Innovation Center, further pushing the boundaries of weather forecasting capabilities.

Unprecedented Computational Capacity

With this latest upgrade, NOAA’s twin supercomputers, located in Manassas, Virginia, and Phoenix, Arizona, now boast an impressive processing speed of 14.5 petaflops each, bringing the combined processing capacity to a staggering 29 quadrillion calculations per second. When combined with NOAA’s research and development supercomputers in West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Colorado, which provide a combined capacity of 20 petaflops, NOAA’s supercomputing capabilities now reach an unprecedented 49 petaflops.

Enhancing Forecast Accuracy

Ken Graham, the director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, emphasizes that this increased supercomputing power is instrumental in upgrading specific modeling systems. This, in turn, empowers weather forecasters to deliver more precise weather forecasts, watches, and warnings, ultimately enhancing the certainty of weather predictions.

Recent Achievements

NOAA has already demonstrated significant advances in its forecast models since the implementation of WCOSS in June 2022. Notably, the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System became operational last month, and in June, the Probabilistic Storm Surge model upgrade enabled storm surge forecasting for the contiguous U.S. Additionally, new forecasts for surge, tide, and waves for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands became available.

Collaborative Efforts for Precision Forecasting

NOAA’s weather forecasting systems and models are developed and managed by the Environmental Modeling Center in College Park, Maryland, in collaboration with NOAA research scientists and the broader modeling community. Over 20 operational numerical weather prediction models run on WCOSS, showcasing the collective effort to advance weather forecasting capabilities.

Conclusion

NOAA’s investment in expanding the Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System represents a remarkable leap forward in the field of weather forecasting. With increased computing power, higher-resolution models, and improved data assimilation capabilities, the United States is poised to deliver more accurate and timely weather forecasts, better protecting life and property. This investment underscores NOAA’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of science and technology to advance our understanding of weather and climate and to keep the public safe and informed.

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