General Dynamics supercomputers begin running NOAA forecast models

Experts anticipate new supercomputers, first announced in February with a contract award to General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), will triple operational weather and climate supercomputer capacity, according to a press release.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) started operating the forecast models on GDIT’s twin supercomputers on June 29. GDIT will serve as owner and operator of the computers for the initial eight year contract with a two year optional renewal.

These computers will help produce weather forecast models and will inform the agriculture, transportation, urban planning and air quality monitoring sectors, as well as inform the emergency response of energy and natural resources and the weather impacts on communications, electrical power grids and satellite operations.

“These supercomputers are a game-changer for NOAA,” said Ken Graham, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, in a statement. “With enhanced computing and storage capacity, we can deploy higher-resolution models to better capture small-scale features like severe thunderstorms, more realistic model physics to better capture the formation of clouds, precipitation and a larger number of individual model simulations to better quantify model certainty. The end result is even better forecasts and warnings.”

The two supercomputers are identical but one is located in Virginia while the other is in Arizona. According to GDIT, they are two of the top 50 fastest computers in the world.

Each supercomputing system operates at a speed of 12.1 petaflops, approximately three times the capacity of the previous systems used by NOAA, according to a release. They ingest billions of observations per day provided by sensors on the ground, ocean buoys, weather balloons and weather satellites. NOAA’s environmental data serves as the basis of all weather forecasts in the United States.

The new supercomputers will enable an upgrade to the U.S. Global Forecast System (GFS) this fall and the launch of a new hurricane forecast model called the Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System (HAFS), slated to be in operation for the 2023 hurricane season pending tests and evaluation.

GDIT is a business unit of General Dynamics with operations in Coralville. In May, the business announced it was awarded a $661 million digital modernization contract from the Environmental Protection Agency