Originally created 04/28/00

Supercomputer designed to improve weather forecasts



BOULDER, Colo. -- A new supercomputer in a federal research lab soon could let people know how much rain or snow to expect in their back yard.

Scientists said Wednesday a $17 million supercomputer called JET would be able to crank out weather forecast models that can predict the amount of precipitation from a storm down to a one-mile area. Current forecast models are accurate only to about 50 miles.

Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., are working with two aeronautics corporations to develop highly accurate forecast models for the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Vandenburg Air Force Base in California.

The new technology also could be invaluable for industry, from agriculture to ski resorts, and could help improve air safety by giving pilots a highly detailed forecast.

The new supercomputer, developed by High Performance Technologies Inc. of Arlington, Va., is relatively inexpensive because it relies on many of the same parts found in home computers, said Don Fitzpatrick, president and chief executive officer of High Performance Technologies.

But the JET is capable of processing nearly 5 trillion arithmetic operations per second, nearly 20 times faster than the existing computer system used by the Forecast Systems Laboratory, said Sandy MacDonald, director of the NOAA lab.

It's expected to take several years to develop and refine weather models using the faster technology of the new supercomputer. But the new system will improve the accuracy of precipitation forecasting.