supercomputing system

NOAA’s Massive Weather Supercomputing System Just Got a Significant Upgrade

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has recently expanded its supercomputing system that the scientific agency relies on to model and forecast American weather.

The agency recently announced that its Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System (WCOSS) received upgrades that expanded the operational capacity of its twin supercomputers, nicknamed “Dogwood” and “Cactus,” by 20% according to a release that appeared online.

The upgrade is expected to improve the forecasting capabilities and model guidance, allowing for significant advances in weather prediction capability for the next several years before additional upgrades are required.

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction Michael C. Morgan, Ph.D., said in a statement that the recent upgrades are expected to “bring improved and timely forecasts and warnings that better protect life and property.”

The recent upgrade followed the implementation of its new Hurricane Analysis and Forecast System, which became operational last month.

In June, the agency also completed an upgrade of its Probabilistic Storm Surge model, which provides storm surge forecasts for America and unincorporated territories of the United States that include the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

NOAA says that in addition to being able to run faster forecast models, the upgrade also significantly increases the storage space available to the agency, and helps to facilitate data acquisition that the system relies on for the advanced weather forecasting it performs.

According to information provided to The Debrief by a spokesperson with the National Weather Service, the upgrades to the U.S. Global Forecast System will offer resolution improvements by as much as nine kilometers, as compared with the 13-kilometer limit in the system’s previous version, allowing smaller weather events and other features to be detected and simulated.

The new upgrade also features the addition of a new Rapid Refresh Forecast System, which the agency says will allow more data to be included with the data used to assemble forecasts and at higher resolutions.

Additional upgrades to the supercomputer’s Global Ensemble Forecast System will provide an enhanced capability to obtain information on wildfire smoke, dust, and fog.

The newly upgraded system is actually comprised of a pair of supercomputers located in two parts of the country. Each of the computers—one located in Phoenix, Arizona, the other in Manassas, Virgina—are now operating at a staggering 14.5 petaflops, which allows them to process up to 29 quadrillion weather calculations per second.

NOAA says its combined supercomputing capacity is now 49 petaflops when its Arizona and Virginia supercomputers are combined with additional units the agency has located in West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Colorado.

Ken Graham, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, said the significantly increased supercomputing power its system has received will also allow for upgrades to specific modeling systems, which he says “will help weather forecasters deliver more accurate weather forecasts, watches and warnings and improved certainty in a forecast.”

Currently, the agency says that its WCOSS system runs more than 20 operational numerical weather prediction models, all of which will be significantly improved following the recent computational upgrades.

Micah Hanks is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of The Debrief. He can be reached by email at Follow his work at and on Twitter: @MicahHanks