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Met Éireann to get ‘supercomputer’ for more accurate weather predictions

A collaboration with three other national weather forecasting organisations aims to improve forecasts, especially for severe weather warnings.


Met Éireann’s head of forecasting, Evelyn Cusack

Met Éireann’s head of forecasting, Evelyn Cusack

Met Éireann’s head of forecasting, Evelyn Cusack

Met Éireann says that it will soon have a new multimillion-euro supercomputer to forecast the weather.

It says it has joined forces with the national weather services of Denmark, Iceland and the Netherlands to jointly operate the high tech HPE machine, which will perform 4,000 trillion calculations per second and handle millions of weather observations every 24 hours.

The initiative is to help produce more detailed weather forecasts, especially with severe weather in mind. However, it will not be in place until 2023.

Supercomputers typically resemble a rack of servers rather than a desktop PC.

The collaboration between the four national weather services is part of the ‘United Weather Centres-West’ initiative, itself part of a broader collaboration between ten national weather services in Europe, known as United Weather Centres (UWC). The aim of the UWC is to operate a common multi-national weather forecasting system by the end of the decade. Global temperatures are projected to increase further over the next decades, Met Éireann says, while weather patterns are expected to become more extreme and more challenging to forecast.

“The supercomputer is the first step in a powerful collaboration between weather services in Europe which will allow Ireland to meet the growing challenge of forecasting high impact weather events with much greater confidence,” said Eoin Moran, director of Met Éireann. “This is particularly important in the context of the influence of climate change on the predictably of weather systems as the new supercomputer will allow for the incorporation of the most up to date weather forecasting methodologies.”

The system is to be based in Iceland so as to be powered by renewable Icelandic hydropower and geothermal energy sources. This will keep the running costs lower, too.

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Users of weather apps commonly grumble that weather predictions are less than reliable.

While the most popular weather app in both the iPhone and Android Irish app stores is Met Eireann’s app, they are not the apps that come preloaded on smartphones when you buy them.

Generally, those apps take their data from US feeds that usually aren’t quite as specific or focused as Irish forecasts.

The default ‘weather’ app, for example, on both iPhones and Samsung phones pull their forecasting from a US division of IBM called The Weather Company (branded in the lower left corner as ‘The Weather Channel’).

Other Android smartphones use Accuweather’s data as their weather feed.

While these are broadly right, their underlying forecasting systems aren’t as zeroed-in on local areas as those used by Met Eireann, which divides its zones into small parcels that are 2.5km across.

“The Met Éireann app uses forecast model data with a horizontal grid spacing of 2.5km, whereas other apps such as Yahoo Weather or the Weather app use information from models with a much coarser horizontal grid spacing, upwards of 10km and sometimes even 25km,” said Dr Alan Hally of Met Éireann earlier this year. “The forecasting model we use at Met Éireann is also refreshed eight times per day compared to twice daily for the information feeding these other weather apps.”

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