Olympic system will show NWS' mettle

The National Weather Service is using this summer's Olympic
Games in Atlanta as a testbed for advanced forecasting technology.

The Olympic Weather Support System, which will provide detailed forecasts for areas as
small as a two-kilometers square, is an example of what NWS can do given the resources,
said Lans P. Rothfusz, meteorologist in charge of the Olympic Weather Support Office in
Peachtree City, Ga.

"It all has to do with computer power," Rothfusz said. "The more
computer power you get, the more specificity you can get in your computer model."

The computer power for OWSS is being provided free for the test by IBM Corp. and
Silicon Graphic's Cray Research Inc. in Eagan, Minn. The computers will integrate data
from NWS radars, satellites and other sensors for use with sophisticated weather modeling

Much of the weather modeling software for OWSS is already in use. But the added muscle
will allow it to run more quickly and with greater accuracy, Rothfusz said.

A large-scale weather modeling program used by the National Centers for Environmental
Prediction in Camp Springs, Md., currently provides a resolution of 40 kilometers. A
dedicated high-volume data line linking the Camp Springs center to Cray C90 supercomputers
in Minnesota and Wisconsin will let the same model give a resolution of 15 kilometers, and
maybe as high as eight, Rothfusz said.

A more localized model, the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System developed at Colorado
State University, has given 8-kilometer resolution running on a single-node processor in
tests. Running RAMS on a 30-node IBM RS/6000 SP parallel processor will give a resolution
of 2 kilometers, and it will run fast. Rather than eight hours to produce an 18-hour
forecast, it will turn out a 24-hour forecast in about an hour.

This will let NWS forecasters pinpoint particular Olympic events, such as diving, which
must not have winds greater than 20 mph, or canoeing, which cannot be done in lightning.

The integration of data from state-of-the-art collection systems such as the Next
Generation Radar and NWS weather satellites with sophisticated numerical modeling systems
mirrors the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System now being implemented as part
of a NWS modernization program, although at a more advanced level. The hardware platform
for OWSS was made possible by the involvement of corporate Olympic sponsors.

"They came to us and said, 'Is there anything we can do to help improve the
accuracy of the forecasts?'" Rothfusz said. "We all sat down in the room and
dreamed big."

The resulting system was tested at last summer's Atlanta Sports Festival and has been
tested periodically since, Rothfusz said. It will be fully operational for the opening of
the Olympic games on July 19.

The IBM parallel processing computer, located in the NWS Peachtree City office, runs
IBM's AIX 4.1 operating system. Forecasters there primarily will use Hewlett-Packard Co.
715 and 755 computers as workstations. Servers will gather data every 15 minutes via modem
from more than 60 sensor stations around the state connected by T1 lines with NWS sources
for radar and satellite data, as well as NCEP in Maryland.

A dedicated line will link OWSS with a wide area Olympic network in Atlanta, which will
distribute weather and other information about the games to PC kiosks located throughout
Olympic venues. Forecasts and other weather information will be distributed via a ground
link from Maryland to the NWS World Wide Web site at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/olympics/Olympics.html
  and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Wire Service, and
by radio link to NOAA Weather Radio.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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