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Supercomputers Race to Predict Storms

CmdrTaco posted more than 10 years ago | from the chasing-storms-in-trucks dept.

Technology 184

pillageplunder writes "CNN has an interesting article on how different supercomputers from around the world are working to predict large storms tracks. The 3 days it takes now has been cut in half. Cool read."

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Earth Simulator (0, Redundant)

CyberBill (526285) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266761)

Isnt predicting the weather the job of that huge ass supercomputer in Japan? I think it is called Earth Simulator, but I am not sure... I remember a post about it awhile ago, and it showed all of the racks being 'crooked' because it allowed the heat from the processors to actually rise out of the case, and not stay in the rack. :P

Re:Earth Simulator (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10266818)

You're thinking of the Neo-Geo. Lack of games, and a shift to home consoles ate away at it's popularity. Not to mention that terrible golf game.

Re:Earth Simulator (3, Informative)

sawb (187496) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266823)

Yeah, the Earth Simulator http://www.es.jamstec.go.jp/ [jamstec.go.jp] does try to do this, however it does a vast number of other things as well. The other systems focus on more specific incident (such as Ivan), thus more computing power is aim'd at a short-term problem.

Earth Simulator does - Atmosphere & Ocean Simulation, Solid Earth Simulation, Multiscale Simulation, and Advanced Precipitation Simulations. (And other cooperative projects).

Re:Earth Simulator (3, Informative)

and by (598383) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266833)

Nope, the Earth Simulator is to predict overall climatic change, not specific weather conditions.

Re:Earth Simulator (5, Informative)

iamthemoog (410374) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266839)

According to New Scientist 28/08/2004, it's a little more to do with long-term climate change, rather than predicting if you need your umbrella tomorrow in Bristol... Earthquakes and the Earth's magnetic field are also modelled too apparently...

A snip at $430 million...

Re:Earth Simulator (2, Funny)

someguyintoronto (415253) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267667)

Predicting if you need your umbrella tomorrow in Bristol does not require any super computer... yes, you do.

Re:Earth Simulator (1)

Ranma21 (651226) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267038)

Yeah it's pretty (typically) parochial that the World's fastest computer that was primarily built for weather-related study and therefore is almost certainly going to run rings around the compters listed there - is forgotten...

Simulate? How about control? (0, Offtopic)

tail.man (203483) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267110)

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Re:Simulate? How about control? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10267352)

Technically speaking... everyone controls the weather... everyone and everything that moves, no matter how insignificant.

LOL (1)

Pingular (670773) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266763)

on teh win?

Can it predict the Presidential Election??? (5, Funny)

lateralus_1024 (583730) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266778)

Oh wait, that's the job of the Diebold supercomputer.

Re:Can it predict the Presidential Election??? (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267083)

I thought they used a quarter? and a double sided one at that....


Re:Can it predict the Presidential Election??? (4, Funny)

tympanic (107070) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267103)

No, you misunderstood. The Diebold supercomputer ("Big Brother") doesn't predict the election, it decides it.

Re:Can it predict the Presidential Election??? (1)

D-Cypell (446534) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267121)

...or possibly a handful of George Bush's cousins in the florida courts.

Re:Can it predict the Presidential Election??? (1)

Ravenrage (739755) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267514)

btw it is not a supercomputer it's an apple IIe

Twister (5, Funny)

Transient0 (175617) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266786)

I'll be impressed when I see supercomputers chasing tornadoes around Kansas in rusty pickup trucks. Not before.

Evacuate! (2, Interesting)

teiresias (101481) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266788)

I could make a joke about this helping evacuation plans, but really it's just good news what with hurricanes pounding the southern part of the U.S and the Caribbean. A more accurate ETA of storms would be tremendously helpful to business and civilians alike.

the 3 days it takes? (4, Informative)

Kr3m3Puff (413047) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266797)

Actually if you read the article you will realize that it only takes about an hour of number crunching, but that the three day storm path accuracy errors have been cut in half... and that 5-day forcast is getting much more accurate.

I guess we should read articles before submitting them...

Re:the 3 days it takes? (4, Funny)

bhima (46039) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266922)

If we're not RTFA why should the submitter?

Re:the 3 days it takes? (1, Insightful)

Cat_Byte (621676) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267107)

and that 5-day forcast is getting much more accurate.

And much less free on weather.com. Who decided to do that anyway? Charge for a best-guess on a 5-day forecast? I can see that for free on my rabbit ears on the TV.

Re:the 3 days it takes? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10267123)

3 day stormcasts are about twice as accurate as 40 years ago they tend to be off on average by only 400 nautical miles. 5 day forecasts are completely worthless and neither of them ever predict where the storm actually goes anyway so it kind of doesn't matter.

Personally living in New Orleans (10 feet below sea level) it's comforting to know that the forecasts are only off by 400 miles now.
/SARCASM

Re:the 3 days it takes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10267171)

What do you expect from somebody who finishes off with "Cool read"? Perhaps ", dude"? ;)

Re:the 3 days it takes? (1, Interesting)

fafalone (633739) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267302)

5 day forcasts from the NHC have lately been given with a margin of error routinely approaching 800 miles. Now I wasn't following this stuff years back, but I can't imagine it being "much" more accurate as that implies that couldn't guess within around 1200 miles. The 3-day forcast for Frances at one point when the storm was only moving 4mph had a error cone at an angle over 90 degrees, they didn't know whether it would be moving SW or N less than an hour from its current location. Great accuracy there!

Re:the 3 days it takes? (0)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267535)

I cranked up the fans on my pentium 4 and am now predicting that the hurricane will impact the southeast United States, and will culiminate by dumping tons of rain over the Appilachian Mountain chain.

/don't need any stinking super computers here, we have the weather rock.

Stating the obvious (3, Funny)

alatesystems (51331) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266801)

I like how the article says: Just as a 5-megapixel digital camera more accurately depicts reality than a 1-megapixel device, higher resolution grids can capture a better picture of the atmosphere and help produce accurate forecasts.

Way to pitch to the high-tech crowd CNN :)

But....... imagine a beowulf cluster of these weather predicting supercomputers.

Chris

Re:Stating the obvious (1)

unbiasedbystander (660703) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266856)

I don't see that actually making weather prediction any more accurate; probably just faster calculations. It's all in the programming...

Re:Stating the obvious (1)

alatesystems (51331) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267663)

You must be a troll since you started at -1, but I'll bite.

You missed the joke; it is part of Slashdot Subculture [wikipedia.org] . You see, I was attempting to provide humor at the end of my humor-less post.

Chris

More details on Fleet Numerical's iron (4, Interesting)

green pizza (159161) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266827)

wow (1)

ircubic (813042) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266831)

If we follow along this trail, we'll be able to predict the weather almost instantly with good precision... but there'll always be the "random factor" that nature always feels like putting in our way. :P
I don't think we will ever be able to predict the weather perfectly, without any errors, but I do believe we can get close.

Pretty fast... (3, Funny)

BalorTFL (766196) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266836)

...but still not as fast as "nowcasting" (and yes, it's an actual meteorological term.) I've always wondered why the local news just has to tell us, "And in downtown it is currently raining at the moment." The people who go outside already know, and the rest of us don't care.

Re:Pretty fast... (1)

Zorilla (791636) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266869)

It's still pretty bad that a lot of weather stations changed from calling it a forecast and refer to it as a "Futurecast". I really doubt futurecast is a valid meteorological term.

Re:Pretty fast... (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267126)

And then channel 5 news calls it the 5cast... Thank god for the off button.

Re:Pretty fast... (2, Informative)

GlassUser (190787) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267206)

You can trademark "futurecast".

John John Macky (1)

zrail (50290) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266934)

John-John Mackey and the Stormtracker Accu-Cast

"He doesn't report the weather, he makes it his bitch"

Re:Pretty fast... (1)

Ayaress (662020) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267233)

Don't live in Michigan, eh? Around Saginaw, it's been regularly observed where people living near State Street and Mackinaw can be hit with a thunderstorm strong enough to blow out the windows on the Kessel's supermarket, and people at Hemeter and State (less than 1/2 mile away) have no rain, minimal wind, and can even see the sun. Those nowcasts are pretty useful, since I always know that whatever's hitting the business district on Brockway will usually hit where I am in a half hour or so.

Error in summary (1)

Doc Scratchnsniff (681952) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266837)

Or, if you prefer, "error" was left out of the summary. According to the article, it is the amount of error in the three day forecast which has been halved since 1998.

Fortran? Eyew. (4, Funny)

YetAnotherName (168064) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266840)

The models -- actually complicated software written in a computer language called Fortran -- attempt to account for everything happening in the atmosphere on a global basis.

Well no wonder weather prediction is so off!

I kid, I kid ... actually I used to work for the National Weather Service ... C++, Tcl/Tk, and even Fortran ...

Fortran, yay! (5, Interesting)

green pizza (159161) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266911)

You don't know too many scientists-turned-programmers do you? Fortran is still alive and well in scientific circles. Companies like IBM and SGI still write and optimize Fortran compilers for their newest CPUs. Even Intel recently released a major update to their P4 and Itanium2 Fortran compilers.

Re:Fortran, yay! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10267201)

And Fortran should be alive and well. My experience with it is near nil, but what little experience I did have left me with one very distinct impression. This is the language for math. When using Fortran, it was like I was one step removed from the actual math. Being so low-level made things a lot simpler. If I had a lot of math to do, Fortran would be my language of choice to do it.

Re:Fortran? Eyew. (3, Informative)

flaming-opus (8186) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267073)

Fortran is still the dominant language for programming high performance code. I'd still rather use C, but it's not really that different. When you're trying to optimize a piece of software for a machine architecture you need to use a language that is pretty low-level. The closer to assembly you are, the greater chance you have to best exploit the functionality of the hardware. C++/Java are right out.

Just Distribute the Load... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10266846)

Why not just distribute the load(a la SETI). Seems like it would be a lot less costly and a lot more efficient.

Re:Just Distribute the Load... (2, Insightful)

dharhas (470752) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267397)

Not really. distributing the load like SETI isn't really an option in most of these simulations because of the large amount of comunication that needs to occur between the nodes. Problem is this isn't a bunch of independent processing tasks like in SETI. This is the same reason why fast interconnects like myrinet and infiniband are often used to connect the nodes in the clusters.

- dharhas

Even if you had the bandwidth.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10267605)

You'd still have the issue of reliability. It isn't ok if your hurricane forecasting network suddenly craps out because the people you told to evacuate took their computers with them. :D Or whatever... blackouts elsewhere, long weekends.

Cool distributed computing idea. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10266848)

If easy-for-geeks-to-build home weather sensors were available, this would be a cool SETI-at-home-like project that would let hardware geeks have fun with distrubited computing too.

Re:Cool distributed computing idea. (1)

Tyndmyr (811713) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267400)

How hard can it be? You've just got to measure a few things...pressure, temp, wind. Surely it shouldn't be that hard to hook them to a computer. Its probably already been done, now all we've got to do is network them.

Re:Cool distributed computing idea. (2, Informative)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267586)

The data is already being measured (google for metar) by our tax dollars. Before you do it again look there, unless you need more location data (for micro climates and such).

I'll save them the trouble... (4, Funny)

hey (83763) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266851)

The storms will hit the Caribbean and Florida in September.

Re:I'll save them the trouble... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10267484)

I found a site where the guy predicted how Ivan would move and when, about 9 days early. I don't know what kind of software he uses, but it is kinda freaky. He has stuff predicting weather for next year, and he claims that his track record is right on http://www.docweather.com/ [docweather.com]

Using Fortran, eh? (1)

tcopeland (32225) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266852)

From the article:
...complicated software written in a computer language called Fortran...
Huh. Not Java, or maybe even Ruby [ruby-lang.org] ? What's the maintenance burden like for a large body of Fortran code?

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (0)

Zorilla (791636) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266900)

For some reason, Fortran is still used for many scientific programs, and this software probably fits in this category. Don't ask me why they chose it, though; I'm not a developer.

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (5, Informative)

gowen (141411) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266936)

For some reason, Fortran is still used for many scientific programs, and this software probably fits in this category. Don't ask me why they chose it, though; I'm not a developer.
Brief answer :
i) because most numerical weather codes are already written in Fortran. This means that people with the right scientific knowledge tend to be Fortran programmers, and makes porting a whole lot easier.
ii) Fortran compilers are the ones where the most work has gone into optimising the hardcore mathematical routines. Thus, the compiled code has traditionally been faster. This may no longer be true.

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (2, Interesting)

Tyndmyr (811713) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267448)

For straight up mathmatical processing, Fortrans about as fast as it gets(Disclaimer: Among major high-level languages, not counting assembly, something special cooked up for you, etc) C++ is fast, but it sacrifices a little bit of speed for flexibility. Java...well, Im anti-java, so lets not go there, but what else you gonna use, visual basic? The older languages are still quite good at what they were designed for.

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (1)

gowen (141411) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267475)

You don't have to tell me. I write numerical codes in Fortran 95.

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (1)

Peyna (14792) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266904)

Fortran is still used in many applications. Obviously it's what was used when the program was first started, and it easier to continue on in the same language at this point, than to start over in a new language.

They're also primarily concerned with performance over other things; this would definitely influence their opinion if they were to adopt a new language (as opposed to maintainability and/or portability).

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (1)

tcopeland (32225) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266951)

> easier to continue on in the same language

True, yup, that's usually the case.

> primarily concerned with performance

Hm. I'm not familiar with supercomputers... does Fortran have some sort of built-in support for being run on them? Like some sort of special internal JIT compiler or something?

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (1)

Zorilla (791636) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267063)

A JIT shouldn't be necessary for something that's already been compiled to run natively on a particular processor. JIT compiling deals more with emulation.

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (1)

flaming-opus (8186) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266933)

Not bad. Anyone who knows 'C' can learn fortran in about a day. It's a pure indicative language, plain and simple.

What's more difficult is continually optimizing for the various machine architectures. The processor clocks are generally improving faster than the memory latency or network latency. So mitigating those is becoming a much bigger part of the puzzle.

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (1)

tcopeland (32225) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267003)

> Anyone who knows 'C' can learn fortran
> in about a day

Cool.

> What's more difficult is continually
> optimizing for the various machine architectures

Hm, that's interesting. Is that something that would be done in Fortran using some sort of pragma-ish hints? Or is it something the Fortran interpreter writers would be mostly concerned with?

Googling a bit reveals a couple of Fortran compilers [google.com] ... seems like that's where the per-architecture optimization would happen. But maybe the "end-user" programmer needs to do some tweaking as well?

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10266970)

Fortran supports a very large set of highly optimized intrinsics that have been perfected for numerical computations over many many years as well as vast libraries of parallel implementations.

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267004)

What's the maintenance burden like for a large body of Fortran code?

Much numerical code focuses mainly on a couple of tight inner loops. That's probably what they care about.

I can't stand Fortran myself, but it supposedly does have design features/constraints that make it even faster than C on many numerical algorithms. That's a big reason why Fortran is still in use.

The smart way to do it would be to write a few small core number crunching utilities in Fortran and then glue them together with a nice scripting language.

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (1)

NewtonTwo (767015) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267048)

This is a good point to bring up. Weather modeling (fluid dynamics) is often all about many iterations over many loops, number of iterations depending on grid size and time step.

Fortran compilers have been perfected at optimizing techniques such as loop unrolling for a parallel environment.

Most often you will see C routines or scripting languages handling the execution of the FORTRAN and/or the data to pass into the FORTRAN.

Re:Using Fortran, eh? (1)

Yaa 101 (664725) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267089)

Fortran is a abbriviation for Formula Translation.

I hope you understand now why Fortran is still used in scientific and banking computing.

HAL, where will the storm land HAL? (2, Funny)

ARRRLovin (807926) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266857)

Next they'll have sensor strapped to the back of every butterfly on earth, increasing hurricane predictability 10 fold.

Fortran? (1)

HavocBMX (760265) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266859)

"The models -- actually complicated software written in a computer language called Fortran -- attempt to account for everything happening in the atmosphere on a global basis." Now, this is a scary thought why on earth would they write the applications in Fortran? I would assume they would want to have this be a scalable and open platform.

Re:Fortran? (2, Insightful)

green pizza (159161) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266943)

Fortan is just as scalable as C. And with modern supercomputing libraries and toolsets, it's probably even better suited to the task. Companies like IBM, SGI, and Intel continue to tune and tweak their Fortran compilers for the latest CPUs (R16K, Pentium 4, Power5, Itanium2, etc).

There are a lot of existing, hightly tuned fortan algorithms out there and plenty of scientists to keep the code running.

Re:Fortran? (3, Interesting)

GraWil (571101) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266954)

They are written in Fortran because that is what they have always been written in. Keep in mind that we are talking of at least tens of thousands of lines and in some cases a few hundred thousand lines of complicated math. This isn't one of those things you port to C or C++ in an afternoon. Also note that most of these models are written by scientists (physicists/chemists) not computer scientists. Most groups now have programmers on staff to help with problems but scientific programming isn't always about having elegant code; more often then not, we care about the output and Fortran does just fine. Yes, we do mix in C where appropriate.

Re:Fortran? (2, Informative)

HavocBMX (760265) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267066)

I can completely see your point. I understand that the code base for that must be huge. The thing I'm just wondering is why they aren't moving towards a more java based OO solution?

I saw in another post regarding my parent post that part of the reason is the tweaks for the fortran compilier being released.

I'm just trying to understand why they aren't moving to a more object oriented method of design for weather modeling. So they can drop in objects that don't require the entire code base to be recompiled.

Re:Fortran? (2, Insightful)

NialScorva (213763) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267341)

When your code runs for days, recompile time is pretty trivial. Fortran also has massive speed optimizations over Java. Most code like this has a really small inner loop that runs as fast as it possibly can, and even the smallest of performance hits from things like exceptions, object dereferencing, register loading of potentially aliased variables, and 1001 other minor things that goes on in the background that you don't see can increase run time by hours. Fortran is a least common denominator that lacks the flexibility of programming, but makes up for it by allowing the compiler to do all sorts of tricks like automatic parallelization of these inner loops. Java and C++ don't even come close to this, and hand coding such things is a gamble on efficiency for a good programmer, a sure loss for a mediocre programmer.

One lesson of object oriented is that you should let the language do the work for you. Sometimes this means that you shouldn't use object oriented languages.

Re:Fortran? (2, Interesting)

flaming-opus (8186) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267372)

Much of fortran code is written by scientist rather than programmers. HOWEVER, big hpc labs like this employ dozens of programmers (most with master or phds) to write the software for the scientists. I don't know about the navy labs in particular, but big DOD and DOE labs have optimization teams with several dozen programmers. These are the sort of people who present at the SC conference.

Even academic hpc facilities employ teams of experts to optimize code for the scientists.

You're right that there is a lot of inertia keeping people in the fortran fold. But the software vendors are also helping this by having really strong fortan libraries.

Fortran is faster (4, Insightful)

amorsen (7485) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267433)

Fortran compilers are guaranteed that the programs do not try to do strange things behind their backs (such as pointer aliasing). Therefore they can make optimizations that would be almost impossible to prove valid in, say, C. Also, Fortran numerical libraries are of very high quality.

Best line (4, Funny)

GraWil (571101) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266871)

The models -- actually complicated software written in a computer language called Fortran -- attempt to account for everything happening in the atmosphere on a global basis.
As someone who spends days (and many nights) extending and debugging crufty old radiative transfer models within numerical weather prediction code, FORTRAN [faqs.org] is the rule, not the exception. What is this c++ everyone on \. keeps talking about?

Re:Best line (1)

ircubic (813042) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266899)

\.? backslashdot?

Anyway, I guess they have their reasons for using FORTRAN, at leat I HOPE so... :P

Re:Best line (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10266960)

What is this c++ everyone on \. keeps talking about?

Isn't \. the webpage where they extoll the virtues of Windows and slam Linux? I think they talk about C# there too.

Re:Best line (1)

kayak334 (798077) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267604)

Isn't \. the webpage where they extoll the virtues of Windows and slam Linux? I think they talk about C# there too.

That made me laugh. :)

Journalism (1)

tesmako (602075) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266891)

Wonderful journalistic number in the summary. Predicting storm paths now take only 1.5 days compared to 3 days before. As it happens I can predict where a storm will go in 24 hours in less time than 1.5 days (in fact, I might be able to tell several minutes before it even gets there!). Without any context that number is completely and in every way useless.

Re:Journalism (1)

FinestLittleSpace (719663) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267022)

So. Anally. Retentive.

But so so so right as well. I agree... but then, when is there ever NOT some kind of error in slashdot stories?

NOAA (5, Interesting)

garretwp (790115) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266895)

I currently work for NOAA at a facility called GFDL. We house some of the super computers here. I currently operate and control the computers and its deffinitly a treat to be able to work with these fast machines. We have some of the worlds fastest computers here and they compete very well with the earth simulator. We also have some of the top hurricane guys working for us as well. It is good to see that the techonology that we use is getting publicity. It will inform everyone how things are done and where they get the information from.

Hurricane Paula (1)

tylersoze (789256) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266897)

Ah, this [bbspot.com] must be one of its new predictions. :)

Relevant links from weather geek bookmarks (5, Interesting)

Council (514577) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266993)

You can see the current predictions by each model at any given time here:
http://www.weatherunderground.com/tropical/trackin g/at200406_model.html [weatherunderground.com]

The NHC discussion of the model guidance for each storm is here, under 'discussion' for each storm:
http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/ [noaa.gov]

They explain why they're agreeing with or discounting each model in their overall forecasts.

Generally, it's difficult to find much prediction of hurricane tracks that doesn't come somehow from the NHC. This isn't because there aren't independent analysists, but because they try not to send mixed signals, which might lead to people not evacuating when they should. The raw information from the computer models is the closest you get to dissenting opinions, afiak.

You have to wonder.. (3, Interesting)

dfj225 (587560) | more than 10 years ago | (#10266996)

To a casual observer of the weather, like me, it seems that the paths of the hurricanes are little more than extrapolations of the current path with a slight bend to the east. For the hurricanes this year, it seems that time and again the models proved wrong for last minutes changes to the storm. I know from family who lives on the west coast of Florida that many people were caught off guard by Charlie. I really think that it is probably impossible to accurrately predict the path of a storm. I mean I could take a look at the motion of the storm and guess about as accurately as the models guess. My same family that was caught off guard by Charlie headed to Orlando when Ivan was about a week away, but the storm didn't land near their house. If you think about it, 3 days notice is not enough to have every person in a metropolis patch up their houses and move to higher ground. Some might say that everyone with the possibilty of getting hit by the storm should prepare, but imagine having to board your windows every 3 weeks or so only to be missed by the storm. It would be even worse if you evactuated on the same schedule. This would make it very difficult to live a normal life. Honestly, the prediction of storms like hurricanes needs to get much better, but I doubt that it ever will.

Re:You have to wonder.. (3, Insightful)

Council (514577) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267113)

It's easy to think this looking at the paths, but it is not true. Guidance is generally greatly affected by the placement of high-pressure ridges and their future erosions/strengthenings. Frances could have just as easily turned harmlessly to the north had there not been a strong ridge keeping it where it was, and Ivan could have headed east to Mexico had the ridge to the north not eroded. In both cases, they behaved roughly as predicted. The paths of hurricanes are predicted fairly accurately these days, and it is mostly due to these models.

The most difficult part of the job is predicting hurricane intensity, which is not fully understood. That's why Charley caught everyone off-guard when it abruptly strengthend, and similarly in 2002 there was unexpected relief when Lili (who looked a lot like Ivan) weakened overnight just before it hit land.

Re:You have to wonder.. (1)

gollum123 (810489) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267346)

well weather prediction is very tricky because it is a non linear syatem which is highly dependent on initial conditions. So unless one knows all the initial conditions and their variations over time the accuracy of the prediction will be bad. this is especially true for long term weather prediction. but with faster and faster computers coming up people have been able to put in more and more parameters with better resolutions and thats why hurricane prediction is so much better now compared to 10 yrs ago. and it will keep getting better. its definetly not impossible to predict the path of the strom. infact right now they are fairly accurate for atleast 24-48 hrs which is a big thing. 24-48 hrs is a lot of time to evacuate people. without all the progress in predicting weather the casualities would have been much much higher.

Re:You have to wonder.. (3, Insightful)

darthv506 (571196) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267673)

Big difference between casual observer and what the people doing the modelling are doing ;) To predict the EXACT track/intesnsity/storm surge/rainfail is going to be impossible...there are just way too many factors that determine what any particular storm will do at any given time. Same thing with earthquakes, flashfloods, tornadoes, etc. Have you read any of the Discussions on the National Hurrican Center's website for storms? They have many different models and then try to figure out which one is more accurate...and it's not where the storm was or is that's important, but what's going on in the atmosphere all around it... it's not something simple. And it's hard to make accurate predictions with limited data. And the predictions are getting better... I'd imagine the area of coastline that got smaked by Charley was under a hurricane warning at the time of landfall, right? Everyone that lives in hurricane prone areas SHOULD be prepared for this type of thing. I'd rather be overly cautious with a major hurricane barrelling down on me... If you don't like dealing with the possibility of tropical cyclones, move inland :)

Well? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10266998)

Not one half-educated, self-appointed Slashdot expert telling us that chaotic nonlinear dynamics and the butterfly effect render weather prediction impossible?

Fortran and IDL (1)

GraWil (571101) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267035)

Almost every NOAA scientist that I know (NB: I know quite a few) is proficient in Fortran [faqs.org] and IDL. This is the norm in atmospheric science.

Re:Fortran and IDL (1)

GraWil (571101) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267078)

That should have been IDL [rsinc.com] .

Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10267047)

Has anyone ever wondered why the weatherman is always wrong after just a few days? Chaos Theory dictates that supercomputers won't help, unless all the initial conditions are known. It has been said that if there were sensors spread accross the upper atmosphere spaced a yard apart, the data taken from an initial reading would break down in less than 6 hours. You can't predict the weather. But modeling it is cool as heck.

Incorrect Summary - 3 day *error* cut in half (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#10267057)

This summary is terrible. The article very clearly states that the *error* in the 3 day forecast has been cut in half -- not the computing time it takes to run the predictions. Geesh...

See the models (4, Interesting)

theCoder (23772) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267124)

As a resident of Florida (who's so far been pretty lucky with respect to the hurricanes), I've taken a keen interest in these models. The best place I've found to see them is at Weather Underground [wunderground.com] . Each listed storm has a "Computer Models" link at the end. See

Ivan [wunderground.com]
Jeanne [wunderground.com] .

Since the pages auto-refresh, I've just been leaving them up in a tab in Mozilla and checking them every once and a while. Though the models aren't always accurate and tend to change a lot, they kind of give you a feel for where the storm is probably going to go.

Re:See the models (2, Funny)

kayak334 (798077) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267680)

From the looks of the Ivan link, it appears as if the entire South Eastern United States will be destroyed in a few days.

someone did a good job on the hurricane (1)

beefcake101 (813555) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267150)

i live in south louisiana and the hurricane is little to the east of me. i bet they had it bad in the old days when all they knew was the wind is picking up then buy then it is way to late.

A long way to go... (2, Interesting)

fafalone (633739) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267167)

Living in Florida I've spent a whole lot of time looking at track modelling in the past month. For hurricane Frances at one point, the cone of error of eye movement was over 90 degrees, as in they had no clue which direction the storm would be moving an hour from when the model was made. In Charley, their predictions were over 100 miles off for the eye only a couple hours before landfall (which really sucked for me since the eye hit land only 30 miles away). And since that happened, the margins of error for Frances and Ivan have been much much larger as they realized their path predictions still sucked.
What's more, one of the local TV stations in-house track forcasting program gave a dead on accurate prediction several days before it hit while the National Hurricane Center was saying Tampa. With Ivan, at one point one of the major models (BAM Medium) predicted the storm would change directions from WNW to NE instantly at a point 3 days away.
Perhaps media forcasters should be evaluating which models are most accurate for the current storm instead of just reporting on a numerical average of computer model coordinates, since often outlying models pick up on something the other ones missed. A few places do that, and often predict the path with a much smaller error than the NHC, whose predictions are purely based on averages of models of which none are always accurate to begin with.

Re:A long way to go... (1)

lpangelrob2 (721920) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267390)

The NHC does do that if you read their discussions. The forecasters take the model output and input their own experience and observations (the ridge over Bermuda isn't as strong as the model initialized it to be, one model predicted a trough to dig in 100 miles further than it actually did, etc.) When they say they favor the GFDL, or NOGAPS, or , they'll adjust the forecast accordingly.

Interestingly, they've still been off (100 mi. east w/ Charley, 300 mi. west w/ Ivan) and that's just because hurricanes are hard to predict.

Joe Bastardi at Accuweather runs a pretty good commentary (pay only, sadly) on hurricanes and he has a lot of experience to draw from... he correctly forecast the 2 category jump in Charley about a day in advance. Don't know if he hit the forecast track, though. Frankly, if you hit the forecast track even once in such an environment as this, I'd consider you pretty lucky.

Charley was hard to forecast because of both anticipating the recurvature, weak steering currents, the angle of attack on the Florida coast, and because the media insisted Tampa would be hit when the hurricane warning was issued for basically the whole Florida west coast. Something like Andrew was relatively easy to forecast because of environmental conditions -- it was at latitude and longitude X and Y, and there was a strong high pressure system over the ocean steering it into Homestead.

Okay, I should make a point before this post gets longer, so... each hurricane is different. But I can definitely observe that in the current, weak-steering-current environment, all of the models, forecasters, the Weather Channel, and armchair forecasters can try taking shots at guessing where it's going and how strong. And they all may just be wrong.

WOW Hong long (-1, Offtopic)

mustangsal66 (580843) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267225)

..Would it take to transcode a DVD to Divx on one of those???

Re:WOW Hong long (2, Insightful)

Tyndmyr (811713) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267487)

Im guessing the choke point would be the drives read speed. I wonder if they run seti@home on these things. :-)

Previous NY Times story (1)

14erCleaner (745600) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267425)

The New York Times had a similar story [nytimes.com] two days ago. Ironic that CNN would take two extra days to get a story about forecasts being extended out by two days.

storm tracking doesnt prevent storms huge impact (1)

NynexNinja (379583) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267460)

Who cares about tracking the movement of a storm. What we should be concentrating on is technology to remove a storm from existance as soon as it begins to form.

All this technology for storm tracking is useless when the real problem is the fact that each storm, when it touches land, causes damage into the tens of billions of dollars, not to mention the large death toll each storm brings with it when it touches land. We should care more about making technology to fight storms, reduce their impact on civilization.

Re:storm tracking doesnt prevent storms huge impac (2, Insightful)

DarthBart (640519) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267639)

Oh, that's good. Screw around with mother nature some more.

Did you ever consider that things happen for a reason? Like balancing global heat loads and adjusting the water vapor cycle?

So instead of having a bunch of light to heavy storms, we'll end up with having ONE BIG MONSTER that we *can't* stop.

elment of improved prediction (1)

Jodka (520060) | more than 10 years ago | (#10267471)

It would be interseting to see a figure releating 1)real-world sample density and 2)computer power in flops and 3)choice of algorithm to 4) prediction accuracy.
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