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NOAA triples supercomputing capacity for more accurate and timely weather forecasts

What just happened? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced plans in early 2020 to revamp its aging supercomputer network. On Tuesday, the agency inaugurated its two new machines in Manassas, Virginia and Phoenix, Arizona.

The Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Cray supercomputers, called Dogwood and Cactus, are named after flora from their geographic locations. Each is equipped with 2,560 AMD Epyc Rome 64-core 7,742 server CPUs for a combined 327,680 cores capable of operating at up to 12.1 petaflops, which is three times faster than NOAA’s previous setup.

The systems are currently the 49th and 50th fastest computers in the world and replace the Cray and IBM supercomputers in Reston, Virginia and Orlando, Florida. Combined with existing machines in Tennessee, West Virginia, Mississippi and Colorado, NOAA’s supercomputing capacity now stands at 42 petaflops.

By comparison, the world’s fastest supercomputer is located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. It is capable of a whopping 1.1 exaflops of performance peaking at 1.69 exaflops.

NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said more computing power allows them to provide the public with more detailed weather forecasts in advance. In particular, NOAA will be able to create higher-resolution models that better represent small-scale features such as thunderstorms and produce more individual model simulations to quantify model certainty.

This fall, NOAA will upgrade to the US Global Forecast System (GFS) and prepare a new hurricane forecasting model called Hurricane Analysis and Forecasting System (HAFS) for use during the 2023 hurricane season.

Image Credit: Brian McGowan

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