Major bump given to U.S. supercomputers for weather and climate forecasting

One of the supercomputers is located in Virginia, the other in Arizona; both operate at a speed of 12.1 petaflops
A collage of typical climate and weather-related events: floods, heatwaves, drought,...
A collage of typical climate and weather-related events: floods, heatwaves, drought, hurricanes, wildfires and loss of glacial ice.(NOAA)
Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 11:22 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 30, 2022 at 7:38 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Weather and climate forecasting has gotten a significant boost. At 7 a.m. CT Tuesday, NOAA officially began using its two new supercomputers named Dogwood and Cactus. They were first announced in February 2020 with a contract award to General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT).

These supercomputers operate at a speed of 12.1 petaflops, three times faster than NOAA’s former system. For those curious, 12.1 petaflops means they each perform over 12 quadrillion operations per second!

This speed ranks them as the 49th and 50th fastest computers in the world by TOP500.

But it’s not just speed that benefited from this upgrade. Dogwood and Cactus “provide a significant upgrade to computing capacity, storage space and interconnect speed of the nation’s Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System,” according to the release from NOAA.

NOAA's two new supercomputers operate at a higher speed and capacity, which will benefit...
NOAA's two new supercomputers operate at a higher speed and capacity, which will benefit weather and climate forecasting.(WSFA 12 News/NOAA)

This jump in computing power means NOAA will be able to provide the public with more accurate, timely and detailed weather forecasts further in advance. That’s both weather and climate forecasts.

“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 result? Better forecasts and warnings to support both public safety and the national economy.

Dogwood and Cactus will enable an upgrade to the U.S. Global Forecast System (GFS) this fall and a new hurricane forecast model in 2023. That model, called the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System (HAFS), will aid in tropical forecasting beginning with next year’s hurricane season.

These supercomputers will also allow “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 over the next five years.”

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