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National Weather Service Buying New Forecasting Supercomputers

The Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System, which could cost up to $502 million over 10 years, should help improve forecasts and climate modeling.

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The National Weather Service will spend up to $502 million over the next 10 years to buy and operate a new supercomputer that will add additional horsepower to its weather and climate modeling suites.

The weather service, which is a branch of the Department of Commerce, uses its supercomputers to run various computer models to help forecast the weather and model changes in the climate and environment.

Contracting documents call for two operational supercomputers -- a primary and backup -- and facilities to house them. While the new supercomputers won't necessarily directly improve weather forecasting or climate and environmental modeling, they will likely give those developing the models more ability to upgrade the software by, for example, increasing modeling resolution to provide more detailed and accurate forecasts.

The new system, the Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System (WCOSS), will replace the National Weather Service Centers for Environmental Predictions' current 69.7 Tflops supercomputer at Camp Springs, Md. (and its backup in Fairmont, W.Va.), and, according to acquisition documents, will "help meet strategic goals related to weather, climate, air quality, coastal and ocean resource management, and national commerce support."

WCOSS will run a Unix or Linux-based operating system and will include at least 2 Gbytes of memory per core. Since operational model runs are key to the accuracy of National Weather Service forecasts, the contracting documents require at least a 99% uptime as well as on-site maintenance and support.

The statement of work asks the contractor to install and configure a list of commercial software as part of WCOSS, including a series of development and mapping software, from Python to Google Maps.

Proposals are due from vendors by the end of March in anticipation of a contract award by October. The contract includes a five-year base period and two option periods that could make the contract last for 10 years.

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