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UBC Reports | Vol. 46 | No. 19 | November 30, 2000

Computers chip in to warn B.C. about stormy weather

Predicting the weather in this province poses more challenges than anywhere else in the country, says expert

by Andy Poon staff writer

Size matters. At least it does when it comes to weather forecasting, according to a group of researchers at the Dept. of Earth and Ocean Sciences.

Powerful computers make for more accurate forecasts, says Atmospheric Science Prof. Roland Stull.

While meteorologists use observations and data from ships, buoys, aircraft, balloons, surface weather stations, weather radars and satellites in their task, all of these tools give only the current weather.

Forecasts are made through numerical weather prediction which uses computers to solve complex equations for atmospheric flow. The larger the computing power available, the better.

Nowhere in Canada is there a greater need for accurate weather forecasts than in British Columbia, says Stull, who claims that weather forecasts are more difficult in this province than anywhere else in the country.

Complex mountainous terrain and a paucity of weather observations over the northeast Pacific are to blame, he says.

"Larger computers allow better numerical forecasts -- forecasts that better resolve the complex effects of the mountains," says Stull.

Stull leads a team of 15 UBC researchers who received a $1.3-million Canada Foundation for Innovation grant earlier this year to purchase computers.

One large computer they are considering is a Beowulf cluster with 288 processors -- ample computing power to churn through the complex calculations required.

The computer will also serve as the infrastructure necessary for the launch of a Geophysical Disaster Computational Fluid Dynamics Centre at UBC expected next year.

Larger computers also allow for better approximations of physical processes such as clouds and turbulence, says Stull.

Multiple forecasts, also possible with these computers, allow better definition of the range and probability of weather events. As well, the resulting forecasts can be tailored to predict avalanches, forest fire propagation, precipitation and flooding, wind storms, cyclones, blizzards and other weather-related disasters, he notes.

The new computer will not only allow for more accurate and higher resolution daily forecasts, it will serve as an important tool in disaster research.

Results from the disaster centre will help emergency managers in Western Canada mitigate the socio-economic impact of natural disasters.

It will also be a boon to industries with daily operations that are affected by the weather such as hydroelectricity, transportation, forestry, tourism and agriculture.

more information

For B.C. weather links and maps visit www.geog.ubc.ca/weather/.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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