We look to weather forecasts for guidance on how to prepare for the day. When they’re wrong, we can move on—perhaps a little worse for the wear, but there’s no serious harm done. But for many organizations, weather is serious business. Think about it: An inaccurate prediction can mean that airports are unprepared to deal with delays, power companies don’t know where outages will occur, and cities can’t warn residents about flooding. IBM believes that supercomputing can help.
Deep Thunder, a parallel processing supercomputing system, can forecast weather down to a square mile for an 84-hour period. The system offers precise forecasting of temperature, wind speed, rain, and snow. "This is weather forecasting at a granular level that we’ve never seen before," says Michael Valocchi, vice president and partner of global energy & utilities at IBM. It’s hard to argue with that assertion (though some have tried).
I recently took a look at the Deep Thunder iPad app, a demonstration app that won’t be released to the public, but one that offers insight into Deep Thunder’s capabilities. While not particularly impressive on the surface (it’s just a series of graphs), the app’s weather predictions come from a combination of basic data from major weather services, sensors, and IBM’s secret sauce: a supercomputing-powered algorithm.
This information won’t end up on the Weather Channel anytime soon, but it’s being used by organizations and governments around the world. Deep Thunder is already integrated into Rio De Janeiro’s city operations center. The city was prompted to install the system after a 2010 storm led to mudslides that killed over 200 people and left thousands homeless. If Deep Thunder had been accessible, the system could have helped the city to warn residents.
On a more day-to-day basis, Deep Thunder is used by utility companies to gauge potential problem areas for the power grid. "If you know weather is hitting this part of the grid at this time, you can look at the probability that there will be an equipment failure and get crews closer," says Valocchi.
Deep Thunder is a useful tool to have at the ready in a world with ever-increasing extreme weather events.