Supercomputer-based weather forecasting system rolls out worldwide

Supercomputer-based weather forecasting system rolls out worldwide

Technology News |
By Rich Pell

The Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System (GRAF), say the companies, can predict conditions up to 12 hours in advance with detail and frequency previously unavailable at this global scale. The system will provide much finer-grained predictions of the atmosphere and update its forecasts six to 12 times more frequently than conventional global modeling systems.

Current global weather models cover 10 to 15 square kilometers (6.2 to 9.3 miles) and are updated every 6 to 12 hours. By contrast, IBM GRAF forecasts down to 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) and is updated hourly.

While this level of forecasting precision has been available in the U.S., Japan, and a handful of Western European countries, say the companies, the launch of IBM GRAF marks the first time such enhanced forecasts cover more of the globe, including Asia, Africa, and South America – areas among the most vulnerable to intense extreme weather.

“We view the launch of IBM GRAF as a true inflection point in forecasting science, where technology helps democratize weather data for the good of society,” says Cameron Clayton, head of The Weather Company and general manager of IBM’s Watson Media and Weather. “The enhanced forecasts could be revolutionary for some areas of the world, such as for a rural farmer in India or Kenya. If you’ve never before had access to high-resolution weather data but could now anticipate thunderstorms before they approach your fields, you can better plan for planting or harvesting.”

The new modeling system is a result of a collaboration between The Weather Company and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). It is based on NCAR’s next-generation open-source global model – the Model for Prediction Across Scales – which uses state-of-the-art science to forecast the atmosphere down to thunderstorm level on a global scale.

To handle the increased resolution and update frequency of IBM GRAF, the system runs on an IBM POWER9-based supercomputer optimized for both CPUs and GPUs (graphics processing units), the latter being powerful compute engines widely deployed for demanding high-performance computing and AI applications. According to IBM, this is the world’s first global weather model to run operationally on a GPU-based high-performance computing architecture.

“Other models may be high-resolution or update often, but the resulting forecasts only cover one country or region of the world,” say the companies. “This is the first time a full global model exists to provide forecasts for the day ahead at this scale, resolution, and frequency.”

The Weather Company

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