U.S. supercomputers for weather and climate forecasts get major bump

Today, NOAA inaugurated the nation’s newest weather and climate supercomputers with an operational run of the National Blend of Models. The new supercomputers, first announced in February 2020 with a contract award to General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), provide a significant upgrade to computing capacity, storage space and interconnect speed of the nation’s Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System.

“Accurate weather and climate predictions 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 U.S. is reclaiming a global top spot in high-performance computing to provide more accurate and timely climate forecasts to the public.” 

“More computing power will enable NOAA to provide the public with more detailed weather forecasts further in advance,” said NOAA Administrator, Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “Today’s supercomputer implementation is the culmination of years of hard work by incredible teams across NOAA — everyone should be proud of this accomplishment.”

“This is a big 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 forecast models at record speed, and now we have the computing power needed to implement many of these substantial advancements to improve weather and climate prediction.”

Enhanced 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 the formation of clouds and precipitation, and a larger 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 Forecast System (GFS) this fall and the launch of a new hurricane forecast model called the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System (HAFS), slated to be in operation for the 2023 hurricane season pending tests and evaluation.

In addition, the new supercomputers will enable NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center — a division of the National Weather Service’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction — to implement other new applications created by model developers across the U.S. under the Unified Forecast System offsite link over the next five years.

The twin Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) 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 NOAA’s previous Cray and IBM supercomputers in Reston, Virginia, and Orlando, Florida. The computers serve as a primary and a 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 former 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 capacity supporting NOAA’s new operational prediction and research is now 42 petaflops.

According to GDIT, Dogwood and Cactus are currently ranked as the 49th and 50th fastest computers in the world by TOP500. 

Under the initial 8-year contract with a 2-year optional renewal, GDIT designed and serves as owner/operator of the computers with the responsibility to maintain them and provide all supplies and services, including labor, facilities and computing components.

The first phase of the contract covers products and services for the first five years, after which NOAA will work with the contractor to plan the next upgrade phase,” said David Michaud, director of the National Weather Service’s Office of Central Processing. “This new total managed service approach ensured that we could acquire the best system in the marketplace that can be adjusted as our needs grow in the future.”

 

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