Met Office makes £97m investment in UK's weather IT

The Met Office has been the subject of much morning TV discussion today, as its promise to produce more accurate forecasts thanks to new IT makes it the centre of our biggest national obsession: the weather!

Specifically, the body has confirmed purchase of a £97 million supercomputer array that will boost its ability to tell us if we need our brollies up to six days ahead from four - and calculate temperature with 90 per cent accuracy for 24 hours ahead instead of the current 12.

It's going to be able to do so by using the power of Big Data, which will let its meteorologists analyse sensor data per hour instead of the six they are forced to do now.

The computer will be based at Exeter Science Park, with first phase coming on line now and full capacity being reached by 2017, is also being equipped by new software called ENDGame, 10 years in development, to complete the transformation of the UK's weather forecasting capability.

The system is to be supplied by US firm Cray, which will build a resource based on its XC range and Sonexion storage banks, and is claimed to be 13 times faster than the Met's current IBM stack.

16,000 trillion calculations

“We’re pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,” Rob Varley, the chief executive at the Met Office, told The Telegraph earlier this month, when the paper did a preview of the purchase, which included the sort of detail the public loves about high end "boffin" kit – like the fact that the total array will weigh the equivalent of 11 double decker buses, plus perform sixteen thousand trillion calculations per second.

Commenting for the government, Science Minister Greg Clark added, “I think a nation that is so taken with the weather as the British, ought to be leading the world in forecasting it and this supercomputer makes us world leaders, not only in talking about the weather but forecasting it too... [this purchase] will transform the analytical capacity of the Met Office. I am confident that the supercomputer will make this nation more resilient and better prepared for high impact weather and boost the economy – improving lives up and down the country.”

The system will also expand the amount of data being processed per day from the current 10 Terabytes.

“The 2012 Science Select Committee made it clear that science in the Met Office was crucial. The science is ready and waiting. What we need is an upgrade to our existing computer to make sure we can compete with meteorological leaders around the world, be it the US or Canada. “We can’t afford to wait. Our current computer reaches the end of its life next year," added Dame Prof Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientist.

The new model will replace an IBM Power 575, bought in 2009 at a cost of £33 million, and which the press says was the country’s third most valuable computer at installation.