National Weather Service supercomputers to improve everyday forecasts

WILMINGTON, NC (WMBF) – The National Weather Service is making a $45 million investment to improve the forecasts you rely on in extreme weather. NOAA just finished a massive upgrade on its weather supercomputers that local meteorologists rely on every day.

Every day, our First Alert meteorologists at WMBF News work through all kinds of data to bring you the most up to date forecast, but the different sources don't always look or work the same.

The American forecasting model, known as GFS, is often fine, but the European model has outperformed it in the past.

In the historic flooding this past October in South Carolina, our team compared to two models to keep you best informed.

"The American model was kind of going back and forth with flooding," said WMBF Chief Meteorologist Jamie Arnold. "The European model, like five days out, pegged South Carolina as Ground Zero."

Now a $45 million project is bringing the National Weather Service's two supercomputers up to par with Europe.

Named Luna and Surge, the two can do a combined 5.78 quadrillion calculations per second. That's nearly four times the amount of data it used to do.

"It's a significant upgrade that's going to take us light years, as far as the evolution of forecasting," explained Steven Pfaff, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Pfaff says, in the end, the new masses of information will give meteorologists more time to make more accurate forecasts.

"Ultimately, that forecast is going to lead to a watch or warning that's going to save someone's life," Pfaff said.

Our team of meteorologists said it's not just about the big event though, this is about how we see the weather every single day.

"Whether it's a hurricane, tropical storm, or a flood, or a winter storm, I think we can get a better idea a little bit sooner," said Arnold.

This is not the end to all the upgrades coming to the National Weather Service computer systems.

Pfaff says they're expecting another one shortly that will help them forecast hurricanes better. It's expected to come in the next few months, before hurricane season.

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