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NOAA goes 'live' with new weather supercomputers

July 25, 2013 06:00 PM ET

"That is a huge improvement, and we can't make those kinds of improvements unless we have a bigger computer," said Kyger, of the 15% gains.

More compute power allows for higher resolution, which enables scientists to look at forecasting impacts over much smaller areas.

Right now, the NWS global forecasting system runs at a resolution of 27 kilometers, with 64 vertical levels, which shows the atmospheric conditions at various heights.

Last fall, when Hurricane Sandy struck, there was a belief that the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) had a better storm track model further out.

Criticism over the U.S. forecasting ability has followed post Sandy.

The European model "did a better job at some points in the storm track than the U.S. models did," said Barry Lee Myers, the CEO of AccuWeather Inc., at a House hearing in May on "Restoring U.S. Leadership in Weather Forecasting."

During Sandy, the European Center had computers capable of producing resolution at 16 kilometers, with 130 vertical levels, according to NWS officials.

In nine months, the NWS expects to be at 13 kilometers resolution.

The increased resolution is "going to improve the lead time for all significant weather events," said Kyger.

In June, ECMWF announced that it had signed a contract to purchase two Cray XC30 systems. The speed of these systems is not being disclosed but a Cray spokesman said "it will be a petascale system."

Kyger referred to the Europeans as "teammates" and said they use each other's models. "I would call it friendly competition," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at Twitter@DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed Thibodeau RSS. His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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