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Top European Forecaster Quintuples Computer Power to Predict Extreme Events

Rudy Ruitenberg

(Bloomberg) -- The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, one of the most accurate predictors of global weather, is upgrading its supercomputer to improve its models and fine-tune predictions of extreme weather.

“Upgrading our computers is something that we always do at regular intervals, but the intensification of severe weather and its impact is making this need more tangible,” ECMWF spokeswoman Hilda Carr said. “Our users need us to be more and more accurate and reliable as weather continues to kill and destroy.”

In practice, the upgrade will lead to “significant improvements” in forecasts of temperatures and wind, as well of extreme events such as maximum rainfall intensity in extra-tropical storms and the strength of tropical cyclones, she said.

France’s Atos SE signed a four-year contract worth more than 80 million euros ($89 million) to supply the Reading, U.K.-based center with a new supercomputer, to be built in Bologna, Italy. The system should be operational in 2021, said Atos spokeswoman Laura Fau.

Scientists have linked climate change to Australia’s devastating bushfires, Arctic temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius this past summer, as well as record rainfall during Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017. Heatwaves and floods that used to be “once in a century” events are becoming more regular occurrences, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

ECMWF’s new supercomputer will allow it to produce more detailed forecasts for smaller areas, dropping its 15-day forecasts from 18 to 10 kilometer (6.2 miles) grids, and include more atmospheric layers in its models, the intergovernmental organization said. Extended-range forecasts for four to six weeks ahead can be produced daily instead of twice a week.

“Our science evolves continuously, there are more and more satellite observations that we want to process, our codes become more complex because they use many Earth system components, and we still have to get the data to our member states within one hour, so more computing capability will help,” Carr said.

Over the past 15 years or so, ECMWF forecasts have tended to be the most accurate, according to verification data by the WMO.

Atos is supplying a BullSequana system that would boost the ECMWF’s computing capacity by five times from the current 8,500 teraflops -- a teraflop is a unit of computing speed equal to one trillion calculations per second. That would place the system among the world’s top 10 supercomputers, based on the Top500 supercomputer ranking.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at rruitenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giles Turner at gturner35@bloomberg.net, Nate Lanxon

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