Beijing Olympic weather predictions use IBM supercomputer

More localized forecasts will help plan for event disruptions

Weather forecasts for the Beijing Olympic Games will be performed using an IBM supercomputer that can provide hourly weather forecasts for each square kilometer, making it easier to plan for disruptions to specific events.

The large-scale forecasts made by China’s national weather service are not detailed enough for next year’s Olympic Games, so the Beijing Meteorological Bureau has bought an IBM System p575. It’s the same type of computer used by the U.S. National Weather Service and about 35 other weather-forecasting sites around the world, says David Blaskovich, IBM’s Deep Computing weather specialist, who is based in Monterey, Calif.

Beijing’s 80-node p575 can deliver performance of 9.8 teraflops, or 9.8 trillion operations per second. It will let atmospheric scientists develop algorithms to express the dynamics of the atmosphere, and has enough computational horsepower and reliability to deliver the constant weather updates required during the Olympics, he says.

China’s national weather service “makes courser resolution forecasts for the entire country,” Blaskovich explains. “The Beijing Meterological Bureau, in support of the Olympics, will make regional scale forecasts that are much higher resolution over the Olympics and all of the venues.”

Detailed wind forecasts will make it easier to prepare for sailing events, while general forecasts of temperature, humidity and heat index could help maintain the safety and comfort of athletes and spectators. Beijing is also using the system for air quality predictions.

The 1996 Atlanta and 2004 Athens games also used IBM supercomputers for weather prediction, according to Blaskovich. The Beijing system can monitor an area of as large as 44,000 square kilometers and make hourly forecasts for each square kilometer. The hourly forecasts would probably look 24 hours ahead, while forecasts that take longer to complete could look several days into the future, Blaskovich says.

Beijing just recently purchased the computer, which cost a few million dollars, and is using it for local forecasts and air-quality predictions looking at smog and particulate matter. The weather agency will perform extensive modeling over the next year to “validate that they can, in fact, support the needs of the Olympics in all of these parameters,” Blaskovich says.

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