150 years ago, the idea of forecasting the weather was laughable. How could anyone possibly be able to tell what the weather will be like in 5 minutes, let alone days in advance? Now, thanks to technology, weather forecasts have become indispensable for our day to day lives. Through this time, weather forecasts have become more and more accurate. Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) unveiled a new piece of technology that could make weather forecasts that much more accurate.
Every meteorologist across the country builds a weather forecast using computer models. These computer models will take the current conditions across the world and use a series of complicated mathematical equations to simulate what the conditions could be like in the future. Computer models come in all shapes and sizes, with some computer models able to predict the weather hour-by-hour for areas the size of a county, or models which look at the entire globe to predict general trends in the overall weather patterns in the world. The forecaster takes these models and uses their skill and expertise to forecast the weather for the region.
The top two models used by forecasters in this global sense is the Global Forecast System (GFS), operated by the United States. The other is the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), which is operated by Europe. Models are also not the definitive tool used, they can sometimes take in inaccurate weather data, or any small change in the weather pattern could have huge ramifications.
In order to compute the math equations, the computing power needed is massive. That is why today NOAA unveiled a new supercomputer that will be used to make weather forecasts more accurate. This supercomputer would be three times as fast as the computers NOAA uses right now. To say these supercomputers use massive amounts of power is a vast understatement. Each supercomputer runs at 12 petaflops, which is computer lingo for saying really fast. To put this number in perspective, a supercomputer of 1 petaflop can do the same amount of mathematical calculations in one second that a human could only do in 31 MILLION YEARS! Now bring that number up to 12, and these computers are extremely fast. These two supercomputers are the 49th and 50th fastest supercomputers in the world right now. Talk about fast!
The supercomputers, there are two, are named Dogwood and Cactus. Dogwood is located in Manassas, Virginia while Cactus is located in Pheonix, Arizona. The names come from the local flora in their respective regions. These supercomputers will assist in upgrading the GFS, the US model, in the fall. Also on the agenda for these computers is to introduce a new model for forecasting hurricanes, which will come out in 2023.