If someone asks you about UK weather, you can probably say “lousy” with about 75 percent accuracy. But the UK’s national weather service, the Met Office, needs a bit more precision than that, so it just purchased a £97 million ($156 million) Cray XC40 supercomputer.
With 480,000 CPUs, the 140 tonne (154 ton) machine will run about 13 times faster than its current IBM system. It’ll also let the Met provide updates every hour, three times more often than it can now. All that speed will enable forecasts down to a resolution of 1.5km (1 mile), giving UK denizens the weather down to a specific London borough, for instance. It should also provide much better flood and wind warnings, along with more accurate fog, ice and snow reports for airports.
The supercomputer will also aid climate-modeling scientists, letting them see how global warming will affect specific regions of the UK compared to other parts of the world. The system will be built at the the Met Office HQ in Exeter and come on line in 2015, but won’t hit full steam until around 2017, according to the BBC. Cray’s XC40 is now its top-of-the-line commercial supercomputer, running on Intel Xeon chips with 16 petaflops of speed and 17 petabytes of storage. The Met sale is the largest it has ever made outside of the US.