The battle of the faster weather forecast supercomputers across ‘the pond’ continues and has taken a turn in favor of the U.S. NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service (NWS) began this month running its U.S. weather forecast models on twin supercomputers developed by General Dynamics Information Technology.

The twin Cray supercomputers operate at a speed of 12.1 petaflops – suffice to say really, really fast. They provide about three times the computing capacity than the supercomputers previously used for these U.S. weather models. The dual supercomputers are located in separate locations across the nation to ensure reliability.

These new supercomputers leap ahead of the rival European weather supercomputers, at least for the moment. The U.S. and European weather rivals have continued this friendly competition for years, and the winner is the public with more accurate weather forecast and warning information.

NWS Director Ken Graham noted, “These supercomputers are a game-changer for NOAA. With enhanced computing and storage capacity, we can deploy higher-resolution models to better capture small-scale features like severe thunderstorms, more realistic model physics to better capture the formation of clouds, precipitation and a larger number of individual model simulations to better quantify model certainty. The end result is even better forecasts and warnings.”

For the North Sound, the Pacific Northwest’s complex terrain from the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound to the Cascades and Olympics offers challenges to accurate weather forecasts. The enhanced model resolution output from these supercomputers will have an even better feel for the region’s uneven terrain and variable weather from one location to the next. When it comes to the North Sound’s weather hazards, the forecasts for wind storms, flooding, winter storms, wildfire conditions, thunderstorms, heat waves, and coastal flooding, will be even more refined.

The science behind weather forecast models continues to evolve through academic research. As a result, weather forecasts and warnings have continued to improve since the 1950s. These new supercomputers were designed to adapt to future weather forecast model enhancements from academic research results, enabling this trend to continue.

The NWS budget for the current fiscal year continues to be quite economical for Americans, costing about $3.88 per person per year.  The price tag for the new supercomputers was included in the budget.

At this point, the U.S. has moved ahead of the Europeans when it comes to weather supercomputer firepower. Expect the Europeans to make their next move soon, but again, the winners are those who use and depend on accurate weather forecasts and warnings each day.