NOAA 99-060
Contact: Barbara McGehan


One of the fastest computer systems in the world has just been acquired by the Department of Commerce to help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration further improve existing weather forecast models and develop new ones, Commerce Secretary William M. Daley announced.

The $15 million contract has been awarded to High Performance Technologies, Inc. (HPTi) of Reston, Va., to provide a High Performance Computing System to NOAA's Forecast Systems Laboratory, located in Boulder, Colo.

"This acquisition will help researchers improve forecasts of severe weather such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, and winter storms, and ultimately, to save lives and property," said Daley. "It will also provide a boost to the American supercomputing industry," he added.

When the system is first installed, it will be running a third of a trillion arithmetic operations per second, providing a computer system that is 20 times more powerful than the computer system the Forecast System Laboratory presently uses. By the final upgrade in 2002, the HPTi supercomputer will be processing about four TeraFLOPS of data or four trillion arithmetic computations per second.

The supercomputer will support many activities at the laboratory, particularly the development of weather models. The primary purpose of model development is to evaluate and demonstrate new or improved weather prediction in a quasi-operational setting. "Using a simulated operational environment allows several different modeling systems to be run simultaneously, " said D. James Baker, administrator of NOAA. "High Performance Computing plays an important role in much of NOAA's mission. "Acquisition of this capability for NOAA's Forecast Systems Laboratory is a great advance for weather forecasting research."

The Forecast Systems Laboratory is one of the country's leading weather technology laboratories. It played a key role in the development and implementation of the AWIPS system, the centerpiece of the National Weather Service Modernization.
AWIPS integrates various weather data into one computer system so forecasters can rapidly access the information and issue necessary weather forecasts. The laboratory's Weather Forecast Office Advanced System became the core of AWIPS software, and has now been installed at over 150 offices throughout the United States.

According to A. E. (Sandy) MacDonald, director of the Forecast Systems Laboratory, the HPTi supercomputer will enable his laboratory to participate in the development of the next generation of mesoscale models. One of them is called WRF, or Weather Research and Forecast Model, a collaborative effort with NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and various universities. "The WRF model will be better, faster and more accurate than anything we have available at the present time," said MacDonald. "It's the difference between a computer that's five years old and a 1999 version. It will make a huge difference in what we can accomplish."

The Forecast Systems Laboratory is also the developer of the Rapid Update Cycle, or RUC, model, a short-range weather prediction model run at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction in Camp Springs, Md. RUC is the only operational weather prediction model providing updated national-scale forecasts based on the latest observations on a hourly basis. It is used heavily for aviation, severe storm and other short-term (12 hours or less) forecasting concerns. The new HPTi system will be used to develop new versions of the RUC model that will provide substantial improvements in accuracy.

Another project that will benefit from the supercomputer is the North American Atmospheric Observing System, or NAOS. NAOS is a program to design an improved upper -air observing system for the next century. The accuracy of current weather forecasts is limited to a great extent by incomplete knowledge of current conditions. The high performance supercomputer will allow scientists to conduct experiments with computer forecast models to optimize the design of future atmospheric observing networks with respect to cost and forecast accuracy.

MacDonald says that 40 percent of the new computer system will be used for weather prediction models, 40 per cent for NAOS, and the remaining 20 percent will be available for other NOAA research labs to use for developing ocean models and other modeling efforts.

The supercomputing system will be developed by HPTi in cooperation with its three core teammates, Compaq, Patuxent Technology Partners (PTP) and the University of Virginia (UVa). Compaq will provide the core computational system, PTP is providing an integrated storage solution from its background in Storage Area Networks, and the University of Virginia will focus on the application of advanced cluster technologies. The contract calls for three deliverables: the initial installation, due within 60 days of the contract award; an interim upgrade after 12 months; and the final upgrade at 34 months.

Note to Editors: For more information on FSL, contact their Web site at For information on HPTi, consult their Web site at