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NOAA News || NOAA Home Page


January 18, 2000 — One of the world's most powerful supercomputers is now generating faster and more precise predictions of the atmosphere, resulting in more accurate forecasts for every city in the nation, NOAA announced today. This new supercomputer is five times—and eventually will be 28 times—faster than its predecessor, which allows NOAA's National Weather Service to improve the accuracy of local and national forecasts and warning lead times for potentially dangerous severe weather.

"This new supercomputer puts us closer to reaching our goal of becoming America's no surprise weather service," said National Weather Service Director John J. Kelly Jr. "This gives our forecasters more sophisticated models of the atmosphere and oceans, which act as blueprints for upcoming weather patterns. On a daily basis, we should see a 10 percent improvement in predicting temperatures, humidity and pinpointing when, where and how much rainfall will occur."

The new supercomputer, known as a 786 processor IBM System Parallel, replaces a Cray C-90 that served the National Weather Service since 1994. Currently, the IBM SP processes data at a speed of 690 billion instructions per second. When upgraded in September with even more advanced technology and additional processors, the supercomputer will process weather data at a speed of 2.5 trillion instructions per second. This final upgrade will make the IBM SP supercomputer 28 times faster than the Cray C-90 and provide higher-resolution weather forecast models. The supercomputer is located at the Commerce Department's Census Bowie Computer Center in Bowie, Md.

"This new supercomputer provides better data for more accurate seven-day forecasts and beyond," said Louis Uccellini, director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction. "Forecasters now can apply research based on more data they will collect. They'll also be able to test new weather models more effectively and more quickly add new results into the forecast process," he said.

The supercomputer generates numerical weather models, which provide important guidance to forecasters. The models are a result of observations taken from the ground and air, such as temperature, wind, precipitation, atmospheric pressure and other meteorological information. These observations result in the collection of billions of "bytes" of data the supercomputer uses each day. The supercomputer's added strength and speed in processing weather data will give meteorologists better models to forecast more accurately the intensity of hurricanes this season, which begins on June 1.

"With even more computational power of the new supercomputer, the National Weather Service will only add to the forecast successes from the last century by saving more lives and protecting property," Kelly said.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Video footage of the new IBM SP supercomputer is available in Beta-SP or VHS format from Video Transfer of Rockville, Md., (301) 881-0270.

For more information contact John Leslie at (301) 713-0622.