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NOAA unveils two new supercomputers in effort to better predict extreme weather

The move more than doubles the agency's computing capacity, in hopes of preventing further loss of human life and damage to economy

A bank of boxes make up a supercomputer in a clean, brushed metal room, with blue light emanating from each box

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has celebrated the inauguration of two new supercomputers, which it hopes will dramatically improve prediction models.

Named Dogwood and Cactus, each new supercomputer operates at a speed of 12.1 petaflops and were provided as part of an eight-year contract with General Dynamics Information Technology, who are responsible for their maintenance and updates.

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Added to the NOAA’s current supercomputer capacity of 18 petaflops, the agency can now utilise a total capacity of over 42 petaflops for research. The additional power will play a key role in next year’s Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System (HAFS), a new and more detailed hurricane forecast model, as well as an upgrade to the Global Forecast System (GFS) this autumn, a boost to all who use the service around the world.

Extreme weather events are a regular occurrence in the United States but are becoming even more common and severe as a result of climate change. Of the $2.155 trillion of damage caused by US weather and climate disasters since 1980, $742.1 billion has been caused in the last five years alone, more than one-third.

A huge $1.1 trillion of that total is due to hurricanes, which also carry the highest total death toll of weather and climate disasters: 6,697. With the upgrade to the system announced this week, researchers will be able to model smaller weather formations in higher resolution, as well as run larger and more frequent simulations to improve model certainty.

Dogwood and Cactus are named after the flora native to their respective bases of Manassas, Virginia and Phoenix, Arizona. They now rank as the 49th and 50th fastest computers in the world.

“Accurate weather and climate predictions are critical to informing public safety, supporting local economies, and addressing the threat of climate change,” stated U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo, in a press release. 

“Through strategic and sustained investments, the U.S. is reclaiming a global top spot in high-performance computing to provide more accurate and timely climate forecasts to the public.”

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