mathematics, weather

THEWEATHERMOGIL:: NOAA completes major supercomputer upgrade

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced today the completion of a major upgrade of its weather and climate supercomputer capabilities. The two supercomputers involved in this upgrade – called Luna and Surge (and built by IBM and Cray Computing) – are located at computing centers in Reston, VA and Orlando, FL. They are now running at 2.89 petaflops each for a new total of 5.78 petaflops of operational computing capacity, up from 776 teraflops of processing power per system last year. According to, FLOPS, “is a computing term used to define the number of FLoating point Operations a computer processor can perform Per Second.” Teraflops involve trillions of operations per second. Petaflops are equal to one thousand teraflops or a quadrillion FLOPS.

Now running at record speed, the overall system has the capacity to process and analyze earth observations and to support weather, water and climate forecast models at never before realized speeds. This investment to advance the field of meteorology and improve global forecasts secures the U.S. reputation as a world leader in atmospheric and water prediction sciences and services.

“This significant investment in our operational supercomputers equips us to handle the tidal wave of data that new observing platforms will generate and allows us to push our science and operations into exciting new territory,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA’s administrator. “The faster runs and better spatial and temporal resolution that Luna and Surge provide will allow NOAA to improve our environmental intelligence dramatically…and to support the nation’s physical safety and economic security.” This system upgrade is linked closely with NOAA’s efforts to create a “WEATHER READY NATION (Fig. 1).”


The increase in supercomputing strength will allow NOAA to roll out a series operational model upgrades throughout 2016. These include:

  • Upgrades to the High Resolution Rapid Refresh Model (HRRR). This will help meteorologists predict the amount, timing and type of precipitation in winter storms and the timing location and structure severe thunderstorms.
  • Implementation of the Weather Research and Forecasting Hydrologic Modeling System (WRF-Hydro). This will expand the National Weather Service’s current water quantity forecasts to include forecasts of flow, soil moisture, snow water equivalent, evapotranspiration, runoff and other parameters in a much higher density forecast output.
  • Upgrades to the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting Model (HWRF). This will, for the first time, allow NOAA models to allow direct connections between the air, ocean and waves to improve forecasts of hurricane tracks and intensity. This upgrade will increase the number of storms NOAA can forecast for at any given time to eight.

About sixty percent of the funding for this computer upgrade was provided through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, related to the impacts associated with Hurricane Sandy.

© 2016 H. Michael Mogil

Originally published 1/11/16

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