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Strong waves in Dublin during Storm Babet Doreen Kennedy/Alamy

New supercomputer allowing 'better, more frequent forecasts' to start operating this spring

A high-tech computer in Iceland will give Met Éireann forecast information at three times the frequency of the current system.

A NEW SUPERCOMPUTER based in Iceland should enable Met Éireann to deliver more accurate forecasts at a higher frequency from the spring of 2024, according to the agency’s head forecaster in an interview with The Journal.

Met Éireann, along with meteorological agencies in three other countries, is almost ready to start operating a supercomputer acquired in 2021 after months of testing and preparing the machine to create highly up-to-date weather predictions.

It’s expected that the machine will carry out 4,000 trillion calculations per second and handle millions of weather observations per day.

Head of Forecasting Eoin Sherlock said the supercomputer will provide forecast information at triple the frequency of the current set-up. 

Speaking to The Journal, Sherlock — who took on the lead role in the forecasting division following Evelyn Cusack’s retirement — explained: “We’ll be getting the forecast every hour now. Currently, we get it roughly every three hours. That will mean our forecasts will have the most up to date forecast that you could possibly get.” 

The head forecaster said the supercomputer will allow meteorologists to get more accurate predictions of how a weather event will play out.

“The atmosphere above us is chaotic. The supercomputer will allow us to get a better range of potential outcomes for a storm or for rainfall amounts,” Sherlock said.

“Then you can go to local authorities and say, for example, we’ve got good confidence of getting around 30 to 40 millimetres of rain.”

The new technology will also zoom forecast information in slightly further, moving from a two-and-a-half kilometre radius to two, and increase by around 50% the height in the sky up to which atmospheric events are recorded.

“We should be getting better forecasts more frequently and we’ll have more of them,” Sherlock said.

“Hopefully that will allow us to make better decisions and to help people who have to make decisions like, ‘Am I going to go to the concert?’, ‘Am I going to have a Christmas market?’. We’ll be able to give them better information.”

“It will help airplanes land at the airport or be redirected if the weather is poor. It’ll help the local authorities put sandbags down if need be, or close roads. Ultimately, our aim is to save lives and protect property.”

He said the new system should “kick in hopefully around Easter”.

As climate change increases the threat of extreme weather events, it’s hoped that the advanced technology will be able to better pinpoint such instances to allow people to prepare appropriately.

Provisional data for 2023 released at the end of November indicate that the year is on track to be the warmest on record — for the second year in a row. It is also likely to be one of the wettest years on record.

“There’s clear science that our climate is changing and we’re seeing extreme weather events more regularly,” Sherlock said.

The supercomputer, which is being shared between Iceland, Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands, is being powered using geothermal energy and hydropower in Iceland.

At home, Met Éireann this year replaced its radar at Shannon Airport and promised to triple its radars over the next ten years from two to six.

There had been issues with the Shannon radar over recent years, including power failures, overheating and positioning problems. It led to the radar going offline for several weeks at a time during 2019.

Replacement work began in May as part of the forecaster’s development plan to expand the national weather radar network over the coming decade.

The accuracy of Met Éireann’s predictions often crop up in complaints lodged by members of the public. 

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