“A supercomputer takes very complex problems and breaks them down into parts that are worked on simultaneously by thousands of processors, instead of being worked on individually in a single system, like a regular computer. Thanks to parallel processing, researchers and scientists can generate insight much faster considering a laptop might take days or weeks to solve what a supercomputer can solve in minutes or hours,” explained Scott Tease, Lenovo’s executive director of High Performance Computing and Artificial Intelligence.
Before supercomputers, we couldn’t receive early warnings for tsunamis and researchers couldn’t see the trajectory or impact of hurricanes or study patterns in climate change. We were really limited to making a guess based on a few basic inputs—because complex models, with thousands of rapidly-changing variables, were virtually impossible.
Today, accurate weather modeling is dependent on a few major factors. Initial data gathering via satellite, buoys and ground weather stations provides current weather conditions at the point of collection. The ability to compile that data is a second step. The final step relies on some of the largest computing centers on earth to crunch composite conditions and forecast the likely future state of the weather.
“Today, weather forecasting is achieved via the use of mathematical weather models of the atmosphere. These models consist of equations describing the state, the motion and the time evolution of various atmospheric parameters such as wind and temperature,” said Dr. Zaphiris Christidis, Lenovo’s weather segment leader. “Consequently, these equations are solved numerically on supercomputers which simulates the actual behavior of the atmosphere.”
But these weather simulations take millions of initial data points from sensors on weather satellites, weather balloons, ocean buoys, and weather stations—huge amounts of data. Weather models today are generally limited by compute performance. As the performance of these supercomputers improves, more complex weather models can be employed, more data points can be ingested, and more scenarios can be accommodated to develop more accurate predictions.
“Even once we began using computer calculations in the 1950’s, weather predictions were highly inaccurate because of the limited computational power. For example, a weather model that we can run today in under 15 minutes on a standard Lenovo ThinkSystem server would have taken nearly 600 years to process on computer systems in the 1960’s,” added Dr. Christidis.
“If we know a severe weather event is about to occur ahead of time, we can take preventive measures to minimize any potential impact,” added Robert Daigle, Artificial Intelligence business leader at Lenovo.
“When we talk about improving the accuracy of weather predictions and early warning systems, the resolution of the model is important to capture the local weather phenomena. To double the resolution of a weather model, we must increase the compute performance by 8x, therefore computational power becomes essential,” he said.
Tease chimed in and shared an example between Lenovo and the Malaysian Meteorological Department (MMD). MMD works non-stop for the safety and well-being of Malaysian citizens by forecasting the weather and issuing the appropriate weather warnings. They wanted to improve their resolution from three kilometers to one kilometer and extend their forecast from three to seven days, which required a 27x increase in computational power.
With the support of Lenovo’s Scalable Infrastructure, MMD is now able to run a model for a seven-day forecast at a resolution of one kilometer in under three hours. “Improving the resolution of weather models allows MMD to detect local weather patterns such as convective thunderstorms that are very common in Malaysia which can bring heavy rain, hail, strong winds and even tornados,” said Tease.
The United Kingdom-based European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), a supercomputer-powered weather forecasting organization backed by most of the countries in Europe, has signed a four-year, $89-million contract with Atos in a deal that is expected to quintuple its computing power. Atos will supply the Centre with its BullSequana XH2000 supercomputer, which will be hosted in a new datacenter in Bologna, Italy. The supercomputer – which will use AMD Epyc 7742 (64-core, 2.25 GHz) processors, alongside HDR InfiniBand from Mellanox and a DDN storage solution – is expected to become fully operational in 2021 following its installation in 2020.
“One cannot overestimate the importance of accurate weather prediction,” said Günther Tschabuschnig, convener of the ECMWF subgroup that selected Atos. “This has never been truer than in our current age, as the effects of climate change are increasingly felt. Individuals and societies need ever greater amounts of information to ensure they are prepared.
In June 2020, the United States’ Global Forecast System received a major upgrade that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hoped would help to reestablish the U.S. as a leader in international weather modeling. In late 2018, the Korean Institute of Atmospheric Prediction Systems introduced a challenger to the U.K. Met Office’s popular Unified Model, which has served as a standard for most major weather organizations for over 25 years. Cray has picked up some significant business from this one-upsmanship: the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, for instance, secured a pair of Cray XC40s in early 2018, and the UK Met Office continues to utilize three XC40 systems, an XC50 system and Cray’s Urika-XC AI and analytics tools.
DOD Weather Forecasting
U.S. Air Force, Army, and Navy weather specialists are using enabling technologies like supercomputers to make detailed weather forecasts anywhere in the world to support deployed warfighters. Weather affects all types of military operations, but the specific needs of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force differ substantially. While the Navy and Air Force have a growing need for accurate long-range global strategic weather forecasting – albeit emphasizing different domains of war – the Army is focused on accurate, real-time regional tactical weather forecasting. As a result, the three have developed separate and independent technologies and strategies, even as they share common elements.
The Air Force provides all meteorological services to Army and Air Force operational forces; the Navy and Marine Corps have their own capabilities, although weather personnel from all four services attend the Air Force weather schoolhouse at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Air Force and Navy personnel also man joint weather stations – one in Hawaii and another in Europe – providing warnings and advisories, hazardous weather bulletins, military weather forecasts for ground and air operations, and, when designated joint, naval operations as well.
“A strategic global model provides a unified global weather forecast for the combined Air Force and Army mission sets,” explains Ralph Stoffler, the Air Force’s director of weather. Air Force experts run global weather models out of the 557th Weather Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. The model comes in gridded format with machine-to-machine interfaces and post-process output for specific mission sets.
“The number-one thing that has driven weather forecasting forward is improved supercomputing capabilities,” Stoffler says. “Our ability to run high-resolution models in a very short time has been essential to that. Thirty years ago, our global model had a 60-kilometer resolution; now it is 17 kilometers and by the end of next year, I expect it to go down to 10 kilometers,” Stoffler says. “Miniaturization is going to give us increased data availability from various parts of the world, leveraging cubesats and placing miniaturized sensors on all kinds of satellites rather than just dedicated weather satellites.
“We’re also building small sensors to put across the battlespace, mounted on vehicles and using Iridium [satellite phone] technology to bring that data back,” Stoffler continues. “By putting sensors on almost every deployed vehicle, we can really increase the amount of data we have to use. The technology is not yet there for us to put sensors on individual warfighters, but sensor development is moving ahead quickly and the real challenges are communications and cybersecurity.” The impact of those technology advances on weather forecasting in the past two decades has been huge across all the services, says Benjamin MacCall, chief of Army Research Lab’s Atmospheric Modeling Branch in Adelphi, Md.
DoD to Install Cray-AMD System at Navy DSRC in Mississippi
The Navy Department of Defense Supercomputing Resource Center (DSRC) announced in Feb 2020 that it will receive the largest, most capable supercomputing system procured to date in the Department of Defense (DoD) High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP). At a peak theoretical computing capability of 12.8 petaflops, or 12.8 quadrillion floating point operations per second, the multi-million dollar Cray Shasta supercomputer will be the first high-performance computing system in the HPCMP to provide over ten petaflops of computing power to Department of Defense scientists, researchers, and engineers. It will be housed and operated at the Navy DSRC at Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi.
That projected computing capability of the new system puts it in good company: today, it would be ranked among the top 25 most capable supercomputers in the world when compared to the current list at Top500.org, which ranks the world’s most powerful non-distributed computer systems. “The investment and increase in supercomputing power at the Navy DSRC at Stennis Space Center is absolutely critical to Naval Oceanography delivering future capability upgrades to global and regional ocean and atmospheric prediction systems, to include later this year the Navy’s first Earth Systems Prediction Capability,” said Commander, Navy Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NMOC) Rear Adm. John Okon.
“Naval Oceanography’s ability to be the Department of Defense’s authoritative source for characterizing and applying data of the physical battlespace into a decisive advantage for naval, joint and allied forces hinges on the continual upgrade and advancements in high-performance computing from the High Performance Computing Modernization Program.” The Cray Shasta supercomputer will feature 290,304 AMD EPYC 7002-series processor cores and 112 NVIDIA Volta V100 General-Purpose Graphics Processing Units (GPGPUs), interconnected by a 200 gigabit per second Cray Slingshot network. The system will also feature 590 total terabytes (TB) of memory and 14 petabytes (PB) of usable storage, including 1 PB of NVMe-based solid state storage.
The Navy DSRC and the HPCMP offer supercomputing capability to the DoD Science and Technology (S&T), Test and Evaluation (T&E), and Acquisition Engineering communities in support of various research efforts within the DoD, including aircraft and ship design, environmental quality modeling, and other projects to maintain the U.S. military’s advantage over potential adversaries. In particular, Navy DSRC supercomputers support climate, weather, and ocean modeling by NMOC, which assists U.S. Navy meteorologists and oceanographers in predicting environmental conditions that may affect the Navy fleet. Among other scientific endeavors, the new supercomputer will be used to enhance weather forecasting models; ultimately, this improves the accuracy of hurricane intensity and track forecasts.
Navy DSRC currently provides almost 12 petaflops of aggregate supercomputing capability to the Department of Defense. It is one of five DoD Supercomputing Resource Centers (DSRCs) in the DoD High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP), and is operated by NMOC on behalf of the DoD HPCMP.
USAF acquires supercomputer for accurate weather forecasting
The Air Force is one of the few organizations within the U.S. Government that has a global forecasting responsibility. Our meteorological production is more than just providing aviation weather services. We provide global weather and climate information to the Air Force, Army and Intelligence Community, said Mr. Ralph O. Stoffler, Director of Weather. “Our Combatant Commanders demand timely, reliable and actionable meteorological information, on both unclassified and classified networks, so that they can understand the environmental impacts that affects all phases of military operations.”
Additionally, we are called to provide weather lead nation capabilities to our coalition and allied partners. We also take seriously our role of providing our model data and observations to our United States partners in order to improve the nation’s weather forecasting capabilities,” said Mr. Ralph O. Stoffler Director of Weather.
Our Total Force Airmen are trained and educated on terrestrial and space weather impacts to the warfighting mission. We strive to minimize the impact of weather threats to friendly forces while simultaneously capitalizing on weather conditions that maximize the operational advantage over enemy forces. We must consider the full range of weather operations from climate to microscale weather events, prepared to support operations ranging from Humanitarian Assistance in partnership with departments outside the DoD, local field training events, to theater campaign plans, and major contingency operations exploiting our capability,” said Mr. Ralph O. Stoffler.
We also produce data on classified models to ensure operational security and assessment on foreign capabilities. Air Force personnel uses military tactical decision aids to correlate platform or sensor degradation with weather impacts. Our data is also fed into DoD command and control systems to ensure planning and operational impacts are mitigated or minimized.
USAF has recently provided boost to computing resources. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center here acquired a supercomputer that is the latest step in a long-running weather prediction arms race. The system, named Thor, models global weather patterns and provides individual air bases and army units with specific forecasts for areas as small as 17 square kilometers. The computer system is comprised of nearly 1,000 individual blade servers. When constructed in May 2016, Thor was the 150th most powerful supercomputer on earth, according to TOP500, which rates supercomputer speeds.
Thor’s increased capacity allows weather Airmen at Offutt to generate initial conditions and process them. Locally produced baseline data, combined with Thor’s increased processing speed, results in forecasts reaching the warfighter in half the time. This gives forecasters and mission planners up to three extra hours to exploit forecasts. Hanscom’s acquisition process began in 2014, and development by the prime contractor, Northrop Grumman Corp., took one full year. Northrop installed Thor in early 2016 and handed it over to the Air Force in May 2017.
“Knowing accurate weather forecasts has always been a military imperative,” said Dr. Frank Ruggiero, Thor’s lead engineer at AFLCMC-Offutt AFB, Nebraska, where the system is located. “Going back to D-Day, one of the major reasons that operation was successful was surprise. That surprise was generated partially because the Germans did not have accurate reads on weather in the North Atlantic. They thought we couldn’t invade June 6, 1944, because the weather wasn’t good enough.”
“We’re running the same modeling program as our allies in the United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand,” said Robert Born, Thor program manager. “That way, when we’re in joint operations, we can all be working off the same forecast and aligning our plans to the same base assumptions.”
In addition to providing a processing location for all U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army forecasts, Thor is able to provide more customized forecasts for military applications. Aeronautical forecasts include up to 80 weather gradients reaching high into the atmosphere, whereas civilian forecasts usually only cover ground reports. Thor also works to provide narrow forecasts in remote areas where military units are active, typically overlooked in more regionally-focused forecast models. “An accurate forecast is a force multiplier,” said Ruggiero. “We know that military operations depend on weather, and Thor can provide commanders with that knowledge.”
USAF Weather Satellite Program to fill gaps in weather satellites
The Air Force relies on an international family of systems of geostationary (GEO) and low earth orbiting (LEO) satellites to provide global meteorological coverage. This family of systems impact operational missions such as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), close air support, Special Forces, and airborne and space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets.
A third U.S. Air Force weather satellite that launched more than 20 years ago has broken up in orbit, Air Force officials confirmed the breakup of the long-retired Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 12 satellite (DMSP F-12) after the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, detected an additional object orbiting alongside the 22-year-old satellite. DMSP F-12, was shut down in 2008 — a process that entails burning off the satellite’s remaining fuel, releasing compressed gasses, and discharging the battery.
DMSP F-12, which the Air Force retired from service in 2008, had the same battery assembly that was implicated in the February 2015 breakup of DMSP F-13. In February, the DMSP suffered another setback when the Air Force lost the ability to command DMSP F-19 due to an onboard power failure. The satellite had been in orbit less than two years when the failure occurred. The Air Force still has five DMSP satellites in service. The youngest, DMSP F-18, was launched in 2009. The oldest, DMSP F-14, was launched in 1997.
However, the U.S. Air Force’s effort to develop new weather satellites is in disarray. Following the cancellation of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), the Air Force pursued development of a new weather satellite under the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS) program. However, that program faced funding problems and delays.
The White House terminated the DWSS program and instituted the Weather Satellite Follow-On (WSF) program, which is currently undergoing risk reduction studies. However, the WSF program is itself facing multiple difficulties. The Air Force has not fully assessed all of the solutions available to address the gap in weather coverage. Furthermore, the service did not adequately cooperate with other U.S. agencies involved with weather satellites. The weather satellites are important for Military as they provide cloud characteristics and theater weather imagery.
US Air Force is seeking solutions from industry to meet data gathering needs. It is also seeking a contractor to build a weather sensor that could be deployed on a satellite as soon as 2022. The Air Force is considering striking a deal with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would allow it to assume control of a spare weather satellite to fill a gap in coverage over the Indian Ocean, reported Space News. If the deal goes through, the 14th Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite would become the first Defense Department geostationary weather satellite, said Ralph Stoffler, USAF director of weather, at the 97th annual meeting of American Meteorological Society in Seattle.
Stoffler said coverage in that region has been challenging for the service, which typically relies on non-US satellites, such Europe’s Eumetsat’s Meteosat-7 satellite, which is scheduled to retire this year, according to the paper. Eumetsat did reposition another Meteosat satellite over the region last summer, but that only provided partial coverage.
The service also is considering trying to access Indian weather satellite images. “That would probably the more cost-effective solution,” said Stoffler. “But to have a US-owned and controlled satellite in that part of the world, certainly from my perspective, is ideal.” If USAF assumes control of the satellite, it would have to pay to set up a downlink station in the region, but it would not have to pay NOAA to access the satellite, according to Space News
We are building a unified framework, which is a scalable system, which allows us maximum flexibility to run higher resolution areas, short term forecasts, and longer term forecasts for mission planning. We recognize we need to continue to improve our capabilities for areas such as remote piloted aircraft, urban operations, space weather observations and warnings, trafficability of land forces, global water assessments, and land surface information, said Mr. Ralph O. Stoffler.
We must plan for changes in our future weather support for the next generation capabilities and needs, and the Air Force weather community needs to be quick, flexible and agile. We need the ability to assimilate our own unique military datasets from ground and aerial platforms, our organic environmental sensors, and sensors on soldiers.
Weather Warfare refers to manipulating climate or weather for military use. Weather Modification according to US air force document AF 2025 final report, “offers the war fighter a wide range of options to defeat or coerce an adversary’, capabilities, it says, extend to the triggering of floods, hurricanes, droughts and earthquakes;’ Weather modification will become a part of domestic and international security and could be done unilaterally… It could have offensive and defensive applications and even could be used for deterrence purposes. The ability to generate precipitation, fog and storms on earth or to modify space weather and the production of artificial weather all are part of an integrated set of [military] technologies.
A global, precise, real-time, robust, systematic weather-modification capability would provide war-fighting commander in chief CINCs with a powerful force multiplier to achieve military objectives, write Col Tamzy J. House and others in “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025.” Since weather will be common to all possible futures, a weather-modification capability would be universally applicable and have utility across the entire spectrum of conflict. The capability of influencing the weather even on a small scale could change it from a force degrader to a force multiplier.