Meet the weather supercomputer predicting Colorado floods, wildfires

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — It’s called “Cheyenne” and it’s a supercomputer in Wyoming that helps the the Pinpoint Weather team predict the forecast.

An image using data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research Supercomputing Center.

Cheyenne is changing the way meteorologists, scientists and students look at weather patterns. That’s because it illustrates the atmosphere in motion which gives us a better look at which storms will produce tornadoes, hail, flooding rain or a blinding blizzard.

The supercomputer crunches calculations at an outstanding rate: 5.34 quadrillion calculations in about one second. It runs out of the National Center for Atmospheric Research Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne (NWSC).

“There are things coming on now that will take us to a whole new game about predicting weather,” said Richard Loft, the director of technology and development at Mesa Laboratory in Boulder, a research partner that works with the national center.

The “Cheyenne” weather supercomputer.

Cheyenne moves billions of bytes of data from 72,000 processors through miles of cable.

Operations Manager Gary New helps maintain the massive data center. He said the computer was built in southern Wyoming for a reason. “It`s normally cool land and dry here. We can do things that are much more difficult in a high humidity environment on the east or west coast.”

An entire team works to keep the center cool using energy efficient technology like vented floors and a wall of fans. Energy from wind farms nearby keeps it humming.

“We did our homework when designing this facility,” New said.

Pinpoint Weather Chief Meteorologist Dave Fraser with Operations Manager Gary New.

More than 2,000 scientists and students from roughly 300 universities conduct research using NWSC’s advanced computer to improve atmospheric models and high tech simulations.

Loft said, “In terms of our forecast skill, if we have better computers and better models, and more data we can improve that skill and that translates into knowledge of what is going to happen and that is a valuable commodity to people.”

It’s valuable information to farmers, energy producers and planners in all economic sectors, and it’s priceless for those who live in the mountains.

“If you consider the population increase, people are living in more marginal or risky environments. Perhaps in the mountains, they want to live there by choice because it`s so beautiful, but there are risks of wildfires, wind storms, severe snow events, rainfall — people living in those kind of environments need good information in order to make decisions,” Loft said.

The Mesa Laboratory is one of many labs across the country tied to Cheyenne through cloud computing. The entire supercomputer facility is connected to other leading cyberinfrastructure facilities.

Currently, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the state…

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