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Technology / Data

Weekend weather warning – as the UK prepares for an Arctic freeze, which supercomputers are crunching weather forecast data?

The UK is preparing to face a cold snap that could see temperatures drop as low as -12C in some parts of the country. With the Met Office issuing weather warnings for large parts of the country, the country braces itself for the coldest weather in a few years.

This information is vital to millions of people across the country due to the impact weather can have on businesses, agriculture, transport and vulnerable age groups.

And let’s face it; we can’t really deal very well with any weather condition. If it’s too hot the roads melt, if it rains everywhere floods and if it snows then the country simply shuts down.

While we may be unable to deal with the weather when it does arrive, it does help us to prepare. But where does the information come from?

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For the most part all of this information is coming from supercomputers which handle vast amounts of data from sensors and satellites. In some cases you are looking at upwards of 70 different sources of satellite data and around 35-40 million observations a day.

Across Europe, some of the biggest supercomputers in the world are making helping to put together your weather forecasts; CBR identifies some of the biggest.

 

1. European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF)

The independent intergovernmental organisation operates one of the largest supercomputer complexes in Europe from its base in Reading.

Currently 21 European countries are part of this and its goal is to forecast weather up to 15 days out and to provide seasonal forecasts for a 12 month period.

To do this it uses supercomputing power from Cray in the form of two XC30 systems, it consists two compute clusters and a peak performance of 3,593 teraflops.

There are 3,505 compute nodes which use an Intel Ivy Bridge Processor, 84,120 compute cores and has six petabytes of high performance parallel storage.

 

2. Deutscher Wetterdienst

Germany’s national meteorological service also uses Cray; it has two Cray XC40 supercomputers which deliver 2 x 550 Teraflops, which equates to 2 x 550 trillion multiplications a second.

What does that mean? That’s roughly the equivalent of 30,000 commercial PCs. It has 17,648 cores and its processor is an Intel Xeon E5.

With an Aries interconnect, the system helps to deliver weather forecasts to both the public and to specific services such as nautical, aviation and agriculture.

In addition to this monitor for weather-related dangers it also looks at the monitoring and rating changes in the German climate.

 

3. Meteo France

The French weather agency also makes use of a supercomputer but it isn’t a Cray, this time it a Bull supercomputer.
To be specific it uses two Bullx supercomputers that are powered by the Intel Xeon E5 processor family.

One of the supercomputers is called Prolix and the other is Beaufix. Prolix offers 513 teraflops and 23,760 cores, while Beauflix has 25,800 cores and 557 teraflops.

The weather forecasting agency has recently added to these systems and will increase the current computing power by a factor of 12, this is expected to be delivered in 2016.

 

4. Met Office

The Met Office may have lost its contract with the BBC to provide weather forecasts but that hasn’t stopped it splashing out £97 million on a Crazy XC40supercomputer that will weigh 140 tonnes, which is the equivalent of just over 25 male African Elephants.

At peak performance it will be able to do more than three million calculations per second for every man, woman and child on the planet, that equates to 23,000 trillion calculations per second.

It will have 480,000 cores, two million gigabytes of memory and deliver 16 petaflops, it is likely to be running on Skylake, Intel’s new processor.

In total there will be three machines from Cray and it will provide the biggest supercomputer that is dedicated to a single purpose.

 

5. NASA Centre for Climate Similation

Providing data for researchers across the world, NASA provides an insight into changing climatic conditions.

Built by IBM and running on Intel Xeon E5 processors it delivers 628 teraflops and 35,568 cores. While you may be thinking that this doesn’t seem like as much as the others, you would be right.

However, there are seven of these systems all delivering the same amount of teraflops and cores and all built by IBM.
This adds up to some serious computing power.

 
This article is from the CBROnline archive: some formatting and images may not be present.