Supercomputer Replicates Deadly Cyclone

The first model to fully replicate the formation of a tropical cyclone five days in advance has been run on a NASA supercomputer.

In 2008 tropical cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar, killing well over a hundred thousand people and leaving many more thousands homeless. Bo-wen Shen, NASA-funded research scientist at the University of Maryland-College Park, replicated Nargis on NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer, becoming the first to replicate the formation of a tropical cyclone five days in advance.

“To do hurricane forecasting, what’s really needed is a model that can represent the initial weather conditions – air movements and temperatures, and precipitation – and simulate how they evolve and interact globally and locally to set a cyclone in motion,” said Shen, whose study appeared online last week in the Journal of Geophysical Research –Atmospheres.

“We know what’s happening across very large areas. So, we need really good, high-resolution simulations with the ability to detail conditions across the smallest possible areas. We’ve marked several forecasting milestones since 2004, and we can now compute a storm’s fine-scale details to 10 times the level of detail than we could with traditional climate models.”

Tropical cyclones such as Nargis are especially vicious in areas where there is overpopulation and very little warning, let alone chances of warning everyone in time. Simulations such as Shen’s provide the stepping stones for greater forecasting of such storms, increasing the opportunity to save lives.

“There is a tendency to over-warn beyond the actual impact area of a storm, leading people to lose confidence in the warning system and to ignore warnings that can save their lives,” said study co-author Robert Atlas, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Fla., and former chief meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“Although we’ve seen tremendous forecasting advances in the past 10 years – with potential to improve predictions of a cyclone’s path and intensity — they’re still not good enough for all of the life-and-death decisions that forecasters have to make. Tropical cyclones have killed nearly two million people in the last 200 years, so this remaining ‘cone of uncertainty’ in our predictions is unacceptable.”

Atlas cautioned though that Shen’s work is not a solution; “Shen’s model worked for one cyclone, but it doesn’t mean it’ll work in real-time for future storms. The research model Shen and predecessors at NASA have developed sets the stage for NOAA’s researchers to hone and test the new capability with their own models.”

Source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Centre

Image Source: NASA

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