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NOAA to upgrade supercomputing capabilities

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is planning to upgrade its combined weather and climate supercomputer, with the addition of two new systems from Dell.

The upgrades will be added to the existing IBM and Cray supercomputers at data centers in Virginia and Florida in the USA, and will result in an extra 2.8 petaflops of speed at both data centers combined, increasing NOAA’s total operational computing speed to 8.4 petaflops. This will enable the system to process eight quadrillion calculations per second, putting it among the 30 fastest computers in the world.

Wilbur Ross, US secretary of commerce, said, “NOAA’s supercomputers play a vital role in monitoring numerous weather events from blizzards to hurricanes. These latest updates will further enhance NOAA’s abilities to predict and warn American communities of destructive weather.”

This upgrade completes phase three of a multiyear effort to build more powerful supercomputers that make complex calculations faster, thereby improving weather, water and climate forecast models. The upgrade also adds 60% more storage capacity, allowing NOAA to collect and process more weather, water and climate observations.

Timothy Gallaudet, acting NOAA administrator, said, “NOAA’s supercomputers ingest and analyze billions of datapoints taken from satellites, weather balloons, airplanes, buoys and ground observing stations around the world each day. Having more computing speed and capacity positions us to collect and process even more data from our newest satellites — GOES-East, NOAA-20 and GOES-S — to meet the growing information and decision-support needs of our emergency management partners, the weather industry and the public.”

The upgrade paves the way for NOAA’s National Weather Service to implement the next generation Global Forecast System (GFS), known as the American Model, next year. Already one of the leading global weather prediction models, the GFS delivers hourly forecasts every six hours. The new GFS will have significant upgrades in 2019, including increased resolution to allow NOAA to run the model at 9km (5.6 miles) and 128 levels out to 16 days, compared to the current run of 13km (8 miles) and 64 levels out to 10 days. The revamped GFS will run in research mode on the new supercomputers during this year’s hurricane season.

Louis W Uccellini, director, National Weather Service, said, “As we look toward launching the next generation GFS in 2019, we’re taking a ‘community modeling approach’ and working with the best and brightest model developers in this country and abroad to ensure the new US model is the most accurate and reliable in the world.” - January 2018

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