NOAA flips switch on two new supercomputers for weather forecasting

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has switched on two new supercomputers that are expected to improve weather forecasts and perhaps help better prepare us for hurricanes.

The two IBM systems, which are identical clones, will be used by NOAA's National Weather Service to produce forecast data that's used in the U.S. and around the world.

One of the supercomputers is in Reston, Va.; the other is in Orlando. The NWS can switch between the two in about six minutes.

Each is a 213-teraflop system running a Linux operating system on Intel processors. The federal government is paying about $20 million a year to operate the leased systems.

"These are the systems that are the origin of all the weather forecasts you see," said Ben Kyger, director of central operations at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

NOAA had previously used identical four-year-old 74-teraflop IBM supercomputers that ran on IBM's AIX operating system and Power 6 chips.

Before it could activate the new systems, the NWS had to ensure that they produced scientifically accurate results. It had been running the old and new systems in parallel for months, comparing their output.

The NWS has a new hurricane model, which is 15% more accurate in day five of a forecast for a storm's track and intensity. That model is now operational and running on the new systems. That's important, because the U.S. is expecting a busy hurricane season.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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