Frost and Snow are part of NOAA's summer forecasts

Louis W. Uccellini

Steve Barrett

IBM houses the forecasting systems at its facility, so NOAA teams can focus on the models and not systems upkeep, the agency's Louis W. Uccellini says.

Courtesy of NOAA

Hurricane and tropical storm forecasts are coming straight from Frost and Snow.

Those are nicknames for partitions in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's new supercomputing workhorse: an IBM SP parallel system with theoretical peak speed of 11.4 trillion operations per second'more than twice as fast as the system it replaced.

NOAA forecasters now can predict hurricane paths five days in advance instead of three days, said Louis W. Uccellini, director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction. He said the longer-term forecasts give emergency workers in East Coast states more lead time to plan evacuations and other storm countermeasures.

NOAA and IBM finished debugging the supercomputer in May. In the works for a year, it resides at an IBM remote-hosting center in Gaithersburg, Md., and exchanges data with other NOAA weather systems in Maryland via a 155-Mbps asynchronous transfer mode network.

The leasing arrangement lets NOAA allocate its funds in favor of more computing power rather than maintenance and staffing, Uccellini said.

The public-private partnership is worth $224.4 million over nine years. Under the contract, IBM is supposed to provide technical refreshments every 18 months and a new, faster system in three years. The company also houses and maintains the supercomputer.

The Frost partition generates the operational weather forecasts seen in the media, while the Snow partition tests refinements to models that predict weather and climate changes.

The 2,752 1.3-GHz IBM Power4 processors should sustain about 700 billion operations per second on complex weather models, NOAA CIO Carl P. Staton said last year.

Frost's regional weather models for the 50 states and Puerto Rico have a resolution of 12 kilometers, Uccellini said. Smaller models with 4-kilometer resolution can focus on limited areas'for example, drought-stricken western states with wildfire threats.

NOAA's nine-year contract with IBM calls for boosting the weather agency's supercomputing capacity up to a theoretical 100 TFLOPS by the end of the decade, said Dave Turek, IBM's vice president of deep computing.

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