Climate models

NOAA activates new supercomputers for weather and climate models

The twin Dogwood and Cactus supercomputers, shown here, are the latest additions to NOAA’s operational weather and climate supercomputing system. Image: GDIT

Following an upgrade commitment made in February 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) inaugurated the nation’s newest weather and climate supercomputers with an operational run of the National Blend of Models at 8 a.m. ET this morning. The new supercomputers are expected to provide a significant improvement in the computing capacity, storage space and interconnection speed of the country’s weather and climate operational supercomputing system.

The twin Hewlett Packard Enterprise Cray supercomputers, called Dogwood and Cactus, are named after the flora native to their geographic locations of Manassas, Virginia, and Phoenix, Arizona, respectively. They replace older NOAA Cray and IBM supercomputers in Reston, Virginia, and Orlando, Florida. Computers serve as primary and backup for seamless transfer of operations from one system to another.

Each supercomputer operates at a speed of 12.1 petaflops, three times faster than NOAA’s old system. Coupled with NOAA’s research and development supercomputers in West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Colorado, which have a combined capacity of 18 petaflops, the supercomputing capability supporting NOAA’s new operational prediction and research is now of 42 petaflops.

The systems upgrade was made possible through a 2020 contract with General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT). According to GDI, Dogwood and Cactus are currently ranked the 49th and 50th fastest computers in the world by the TOP500. The TOP500 project ranks and details the 500 most powerful non-distributed computing systems in the world. The project was started in 1993 and publishes an updated list of supercomputers twice a year.

“Accurate weather and climate forecasts are critical to informing public safety, supporting local economies, and addressing the threat of climate change,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “Through strategic and sustained investments, the United States is reclaiming a global leadership position in high-performance computing to provide the public with more accurate and timely climate predictions.”

“Today is a great day for NOAA and the state of weather forecasting,” said Ken Graham, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “Researchers are developing new ensemble-based forecasting models at record speed, and we now have the computing power to implement many of these substantial advances to improve weather and climate predictions.”

The GOES-R series of weather satellites, including this faulty GOES-18
The GOES-R series of weather satellites have greatly enhanced NOAA’s ability to capture large amounts of weather data in addition to images of Earth’s weather systems. Image: NOAA

With the latest generation of the GOES-R series of weather satellites now in service and this new functional supercomputer upgrade, Weatherboy asked Graham what else needed to be upgraded to improve the accuracy of weather and climate forecasting at audience.

“Data,” Graham replied succinctly. As a “starting point” for the models, Graham said getting good data into the models was key to getting good accuracy from them. Describing his recent experience as director of the National Hurricane Center, Graham described how new streams of accurate data have improved forecasts there. An example of this is the Hurricane Hunter data in the models, Graham said. “Aircraft data has provided significant improvements in hurricane tracking and intensity forecasting.”

“Greater computing power will allow NOAA to provide the public with more detailed weather forecasts further in advance,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. today is the culmination of years of hard work by incredible teams across NOAA – everyone should be proud of this achievement.”

Improved computing and storage capacity will allow NOAA to deploy higher resolution models to better capture small-scale features like severe thunderstorms, more realistic model physics to better capture cloud formation ​and precipitation, and a greater number of individual model simulations to better quantify model certainty. The end result is even better forecasts and warnings to support public safety and the national economy.

The new supercomputers will enable an upgrade to the U.S. Global Forecasting System (GFS) this fall and the launch of a new hurricane forecasting model called the Hurricane Analysis and Forecasting System (HAFS), which is expected to be operational. for the 2023 hurricane season pending testing. and evaluation. The new supercomputers will also allow NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center to implement other new applications created by model developers across the United States as part of the Unified Prediction System over the next 5 years.