Predicting the weather in Britain has never been an exact science. In fact, there are numerous examples of the Met Office (the department in charge of weather forecasts) getting it wrong. This ranges from weather presenter Michael Fish famously denying there would be a hurricane in 1987 to a 2009 prediction of a ‘barbecue summer’ only to have one of the wettest summers on record. Even today as I look out of the window in London, the official forecast says that it should be raining all day but there is hardly a cloud in the sky.
However, this may all be about to change with the Met Office investing £97m ($155 million) in a new super computer. It will consist of an array of Cray XC40 systems, weighing 140 tonnes. With 480,000 central processing units it will also be able to perform 16 quadrillion calculations every second.
This will allow the weather forecasting to be considerably more accurate moving forwards. Rather than the single analysis done every 3 hours, it will allow forecasters to run analysis’ every hour. It will also mean that more long term forecasts can be made and weather can be predicted with a 90% accuracy 24 ahead, rather than the current 12 hours.
So apart from whether or not you should wear a coat, what impact does this have?
We have seen the deadly affects that the weather can have on communities, from flooding, high winds and excessive snow and having the ability to give as much warning as possible could save hundreds of lives. If people had an extra 12 hours to prepare for adverse weather conditions, it can be the difference between having a soggy carpet or a condemned house.
Equally, as we move into an uncertain future in regards to global warming, the ability to create models that could help us understand the impact we are having is invaluable to helping to minimise risk. With the ability to process data at 12 times the speed of the system currently being used, models can be considerably more complex and as such, far more accurate.
This can create insights for scientists that could be used to prevent worldwide problems. It is truly a use of data that could have a profound impact on the way that the human race will face future challenges.