back to article Supercomputer to improve UK weather

The Met Office, home of UK weather forecasting, is getting a shiny new supercomputer from IBM. The £33m contract with IBM, which covers maintenance, support and a mid-life upgrade, will run until 2013. The machine should have total peak performance of 1 Petaflop by 2011 - some 30 times more powerful than the Met's current …

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IT Angle

Confused

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Supercomputer to improve UK weather

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How, please tell

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Dibs on the old one

I'm going skip-diving at the Met Office...

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Improve UK weather

That title looked promising, unfortunately it's only likely to improve the forecasting.

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Anonymous Coward

Met Office needs windows

With a small w.

If they had windows in their offices they could have regional observers look outside and see whether it's raining or not, and modify their computer-based regional short term forecasts accordingly.

The Met Office already have national live (ish) rainfall radar coverage across the UK, and by watching the progress of the rain in the previous few hours you can make a very good guess as to what the short term forecast should say about rain. But they don't seem to do this, judging by the number of times the forecasts I watch have said "dry for the next 4+ hours" whilst the radar has said "rain coming your way Real Soon Now" (usually followed by "it's raining, men").

So maybe radar's too high tech for the Met, maybe they need windows.

And then there's the Met Office web site itself, which since last year's redesign is absolutely totally completely utterly useless on the kind of web device people use when out and about ie when the weather forecast is *important* (mobile phone, PDA, etc). Try it, you won't like it.

Met Office rainfall radar: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/uk/radar/index.html

Meteox rainfall radar (includes a prediction of where it will rain in the next few hours): http://www.meteox.com/h.aspx?r=&jaar=-3&soort=loop1uur

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Black Helicopters

Black Computers

"Once up and running the computer is expected to be the second most powerful in the UK, behind the University of Edinburgh's Hector machine. It will also be in the top 20 supercomputers worldwide"

What about those really powerful computers that certain doughnut shaped Government facilities have near J11 M5 - hold on, someone seems to be banging on my door................

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Does this mean?

Does this mean that the BBC will start doing forecasts that bear some resemblance to reality?

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Paris Hilton

That's all very well but what about the forecast on the telly

Super Whizzy graphics and a fully interactive presentation are all well and good but er pardon me, your weather forecasts are crap.

Before 'the office' had any super computers at all, the weather forecasts were much better.

I think that 'the office' are trying to be too accurate and so will never get it right.

Bring back old Bob and his lucky pine cone!

Paris because she maight get a wash and blow dry if the weather forecast is right

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Bronze badge

the truth

Then we might get the truth about the climate change scam.

Wait, that can't be right one of the leading scammers is a british prof, and besides it would not be PC.

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Coat

Erm....

Mr Pedant here says that as he looks out at rain (again) the story title is annoyingly inaccurate.

Mine will be the wet one with a big pocket for my notepad.

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Anonymous Coward

Hooray for inaccurate titles!

What I don't get about this though is the "low-probability high-impact" bit. With my limited understanding of meteorology I'd expect that high-impact weather is pretty much always plain as daylight. "And the weather forecast: There's a five percent chance that a hurricane will pop up above the Isle of Man tonight, so you'd better brace yourselves."

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ECMWF?

Much as I'd love to cheer for Edinburgh, the top500.org June 2008 list has Hector as only the second most powerful supercomputer in the UK. The most powerful apparently belongs to the catchily named ECMWF and is in Reading; it's number 18 on the list. HeCToR is at number 29.

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Flame

Casuing climate change

"The Met Office will also use the machine for researching climate change."

Shouldn't that read...

The Met Office will also use the machine for _causing_ climate change.

How much power do you think this thing uses? And I bet it's on all day and all night, running its simulations.

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Anonymous Coward

Weather Control?

...with that article title I thought for a minute we were following China with modding weather!

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Silver badge

@Aimee

All the heat it's putting out will warm up the country and make the clouds go away.

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It doesnt take a suupercomputer.....

....to improve the current forecasting. Now I know this is about the Met Office, but thats where Auntie gets their forecasts from.

The 24 hour forecast and the 5 day forecast on the beeb bear no relation to each other at all. The local beeb weather at 10:30 pm and the national beeb weather for your your region at 10:28 pm are mostly completely different. I appreciate that weather forecasting is nigh on impossible, but before investing 33m of our money in a nerw computer, can we at least invest a few pence in some polish people to check that the 85 different arms of the beeb are at least saying the same thing. Or display a note at the bottom of the screen saying, "This is our best guess - please disregard other forecasts." Grrr.....

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The important question...

...but can it run Crysis?

Mine's the one with racks of old supercomputer hidden under it.

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In soviet Russia.

In soviet Russia, the weather forecasts you.

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Re: Met Office needs windows

Uh, who hasn't heard of the observing network? I suspect these "weather observers" use windows (or doors as egress to the scary "outside", scorning the dangers of paedophiles, axe murderers and Al Qaida in the selfless persuit of knowledge) to view the weather and report on it.

Unfortunately, the view outside doesn't yet contain any tachyon emissions so the view to the future (forecasting) is not amenable to the "look out the window" method.

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Re: That's all very well but what about the forecast on the telly

"Before 'the office' had any super computers at all, the weather forecasts were much better."

So you've kept a record of how often the weather forecast has been right and how often it's been wrong, then? I'm pretty sure that the Met Office would like those figures... Unless you pulled them from your arse.

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Happy

@ Dominik van Berkel "low probability high impact"

Actually, "low probability high impact" events can be hard to predict. If you recall the floods in the South of France several years ago, they were due to quite localised weather conditions. At the time the predictive model for the weather over the next day did not show this, and so they were totally unprepared. A few years later they had more compute power so could up the resolution of the grid used in the predictive model, and they revisited the data. The new higher resolution correctly predicted the localised conditions, and if it had been available at the time, some warning could have been given. So there you go.

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Rob
Black Helicopters

@ Geoff Mackenzie

Too late, old chap. In a classic example of joined-up-government, the old one's already been sold. To Russian Business Network!

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nbc

The hardware isn't the problem...

it's the crappy modelling software

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Good

Sounds good.

How will it improve the accuracy of the UKMO model compared with the currently best-verifying model output from the ECMWF in Reading though?

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My oh my what a wonderful day...

So does this mean that

www.bbc.co.uk/weather

www.metcheck.com

www.weather.co.uk

Might all actually tally with each other?

(Darn, they are all pretty similar at the moment, first time in history. Although none of them mention the rain outside my window right now.)

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to be fair...

The weather is a lot more complicated here. I just got back from the Med where I knew before I opened the shutters each morning that the day would be "Scorchio" with zero chance of rain.

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I hope they give it a good name

The identical pair of Cray T3Es the Met Office ran in Bracknell were called "Ronnie" and "Reggie". Top that.

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Anonymous Coward

We're not idiots, but the met office think we are.

I've lost count of the number of countries I've visited where the forecast has been something like: "If you live here there is a 40% chance of rain." The met office don't think we can cope with that, they seem to think we can only cope with certanties. So they tell us that it either will or won't rain. Of course this massively increases the chances of them being wrong.

If you look at there lovely high resolution map and see that it shows rain for 9am over my house and it doesn't rain at that time then the forecast is wrong. If, OTOH, they said there was a 60% chance of rain over my house at 9am and it didn't rain then the forecast would be sort of 40% right.

The more granular they try to make the forecast the more likely they are to be wrong.

The biggest problem I have is their arrogance. They will seldom admit to being wrong. They just rabbit on about how accurate their forecasts are no matter how much evidence you present to the contrary. And if they do admit to being wrong they always qualify it with the curious statement "it isn't a prediction it's a forecast". Well my dictionary contains the entry:

forecast n. - a prediction, esp. as to the weather.

So a forecast is a prediction and the Met Office are often wrong.

Occasionally I like to record what mondays five day forecast says is going to happen on friday and then check back on every forecast up to and including friday morning. This is, I suspect, how they always manage to claim to be right. They change it so often that one of those forecasts will have been right.

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Anonymous Coward

I've been hearing this story since the early '80s

Then they were getting a Cray that would enable them to make accurate forecasts - I'm still waiting.

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Anonymous Coward

"same as yesterday's" is normally more accurate

New Scientist published a study that compared the Met office's output with a simple "much the same as yesterday's" blanket forecast, and found the latter to be more accurate. Je reste mon valise.

Oh, and Aimee, you poor confused person, post first - think later. Any ful know that with a shiny new computer the Met office can start offering some better weather forecasts, and by christ we could do with it.

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Joke

Impressive specs, but...

will it be Vista-capable?? Ah, Basic only...

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Linux

IBM...

... I presume that this will also be running Symphony and Linux given the latest publicity push that IBM are making?

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"If you live here there is a 40% chance of rain."

My problem with that is that you can NEVER BE WRONG. You just say "well, it was the other chance".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I hope they give it a good name

Nope, Ronnie and Reggie were the names given to them by the reporter who reported on them.

The Met Office never called them that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Met Office needs Windows

In the old Met Office headquarters in Bracknell, the forecasters were for a time located in a room with blacked out windows so that the current weather would not influence their forecasts.

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Paris Hilton

@I've been hearing this story since the early '80s

Didn't the Met Office use Mr Fish's infamous faux pas as an excuse to bin their old Cray in the 80's and install a stonking great liquid nitrogen cooled, go-faster striped jobbie at vast expense only to decide it wasn't good enough after all, binned that and went back to Cray?

Paris? 'cos I reckon she'd love a stonking great liquid nitrogen cooled, go-faster striped jobbie too :-)

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Am I the only one...

Who thought of the plot of "Superman III" after reading the headline?

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With multiple simultaneous orgasms?

Simulated, of course.

Met Office - official UK home of climate. What a limp excuse for a new box, but even Met men must have their jollies, one supposes.

The rest of us just have weather - or, after removal of the e, war. So this new box will presumably be called - George.

Here's a machine they could do better forecasts with:

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Zambretti-Weather-Forecaster-Very-Accurate-NEW_W0QQitemZ120288556277QQcmdZViewItem?hash=item120288556277&_trkparms=72%3A984%7C39%3A1%7C66%3A2%7C65%3A12&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14.l1318

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Paris Hilton

A deck of cards and other inane ramblings

Shuffle a pack of cards with icons of rain, sun, snow, hail, hellfire, sleet, wind on them.

Get Michael Fish to pick a few each day live on Telly. Terry Wogan can hold the deck of cards and make unfunny old fart quips.

That'll be about as accurate as a super computer, far cheaper and with the added possibility of some really exciting weather when Michael Fishes guesswork backfires and we get a Tsunami on the Tyne.

We'll also want to know when there'll be leaves on the railway tracks (thus bringing the rail network to a halt) and if we'll get a light sprinkling of snow (bringing the road networks to a halt) and the possibility of more than 3 hours sun in one go (bringing the entire country to a halt)

Mr. Fish can pick those potential showstopper options out of a large hat, live on Telly each evening at 8.

Paris, because when the weather is bad, she goes tits up.

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Stop

Somebody's already done the Crysis joke!

They replaced the Cray system in 2004, and they're replacing the NEC now with one due to run until 2013? Get through them a bit, don't they? I'm sure they could make do with what they've got. There are plenty of internet sites that do weather predictions. Granted, I am starting to think perhaps I should expect the opposite of what the Beeb tells me. Last week it was predicting the rain would stop after Sunday!

x

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Stop

re: will it be Vista-capable?? Ah, Basic only...

it will be much better with a upgrade to XP....

and before the linux fanboys start,,, you know quite well, linux is crap on brand new technology

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Computing the weather

I seem to remember one of the Universities in California a few years back had designed a computer model to predict rain. They ran it for a year and found it something like 85% accurate and were really pleased until someone pointed out that just saying "No rain" every day would have been over 80% accurate for that year.

Sorry, we're not going to be able to predict weather until that butterfly in Japan quits flapping its wings.

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Peta Flop

How many mousebrains is it, we need to know.

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@Graham Dawson

Thanks all is clear!!!

Where I live I can get, at the touch of a mouse click....

Accurate Local Weather

Real Time lightning strike info

Any water restrictions, ie filling pool. watering garden etc

All for free.

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Black Helicopters

@Dibs on the old one

Too late, its gone to DOPE (Department Of Pathetic Excuses)

(This is a secret GD, known only to a few outsiders where a super computer generates totally (in)plausable responses for the Government)

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Coat

GIGO

Met forecast : fine and sunny

My house : pissing down and my newly glossed front door now needs repainting - AGAIN !

The money would better spent on some mad old biddy staring into a cup of PG Tips e.g Mystic Meg.

Getting my coat as the Met O. said it would be sunny

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Coat

Wrong Modelling

It's not the oomph in their computers, it's the modelling they use that needs looking at. A day's correct forecast is most unusual, and even current conditions occasionally elude the Met Office. I usually get my Met Office forecasts from the BBC, which is pretty convenient, but rarely right.

Try typing in the name of your town and check that forecast and the current conditions, then try entering your postcode instead. The range of temperatures, rain or sun can be breathtakingly wrong.

If the Met Office says sunshine, I'll get my coat.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC Re: Computing the weather

If your model is predicting rain and you say no rain 100% of the time so it doesn't predict any day that it rains then it's 0% accurate. Measuring performance is complicated as it needs to take into account what you are trying to predict and give that weight. All the silly examples people have given (such as tomorrow's weather will be the same as today's) would perform much worse than the Met Office forecasts.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "same as yesterday's" is normally more accurate

It's true.. the weather today is likely to be the same as yesterday, the question is how good is the "same as yesterday's" forecast when the weather isn't the same as yesterday? That's right, it's 0% accurate, which is impossible for the Met Office forecast to be less accurate than so your comment is tripe.

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Happy

Faster

Does this means they can now get it wrong even quiker?

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Re: Computing the weather

Unfortunately, "same as today" gets less and less accurate geometrically.

75% right for a one-day forecast

56% two days

42% three days

23% five days.

a model forecast is 85% and gets less accurate depending on how predictable the system is, so is generally linearly (or sub-linearly less accurate:

85% right for a one-day forecast

75% two days

65% three

45% five

(figures are a little pessimistic).

So a five-day forecast is better than saying "the same as today" is in three days.

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