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