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NASA's Hurricane Model Resolution Increases Nearly 10-Fold Since Katrina 89

zdburke writes: Thanks to improvements in satellites and on-the-ground computing power, NASA's ability to model hurricane data has come a long way in the ten years since Katrina devastated New Orleans. Their blog notes, "Today's models have up to ten times the resolution than those during Hurricane Katrina and allow for a more accurate look inside the hurricane. Imagine going from video game figures made of large chunky blocks to detailed human characters that visibly show beads of sweat on their forehead." Gizmodo covered the post too and added some technical details, noting that, "the supercomputer has more than 45,000 processor cores and runs at 1.995 petfalops."
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NASA's Hurricane Model Resolution Increases Nearly 10-Fold Since Katrina

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  • But really, it was the accuracy that was the problem all along.

    • by ZombieEngineer ( 738752 ) on Saturday August 22, 2015 @10:08AM (#50369775)

      The path of a hurricane is somewhat unpredictable (been known to turn 90 degrees for no apparent reason).

      The bigger issue which is harder to address is making homes that can "largely survive" being hit by a hurricane. The biggest issue is the junk flying around due to the strong winds (and storm surge if you are near the water). Once a building starts to disintegrate it provides the wind with ammunition for taking out other buildings.

      In Australia when a cyclone is heading towards your community and potentially make land fall within 48 hours there is a whole pile of things that kick in for preparation (food, water, fuel, tie down and clean up - most people will be sent home by work during this period). At about six hours it is a case of bunker down and wait for it to go overhead.

      Better prediction will reduce the amount of communities put on alert and associated disruption but unlikely to reduce the damage in affected areas (for that you need better building codes and people willing to take appropriate measures).

      • by Orp ( 6583 )

        The path of a hurricane is somewhat unpredictable (been known to turn 90 degrees for no apparent reason).

        We've gotten much better at predicting the paths of hurricanes which are, to a first degree of approximation, steered by larger-scale winds that have gotten easier to predict with time because of improved observational data feeding models, as well as the fact that they are easier to resolve and are dictated by things that don't require lots of parameterization (like what you have with convective clouds a

        • You said a lot of good things in your post, but I'd like to add to it a bit. Your explanation of why we've made more gains in track forecasting than intensity forecasting is correct. You're also correct about the scale-dependence of the predicting the atmosphere.

          Once we get down to a horizontal grid spacing of 4 km or so, we no longer parameterize thunderstorms. The grid spacing is sufficient to explicitly resolve them, so we turn the cumulus parameterization off. In older and coarser models, there is an as

          • by Orp ( 6583 )

            You may turn CP off but you're sure as hell still parameterizing (microphysics!! And just how many choices do you have for those fun knobs!). And 4km is still pretty damned coarse for thunderstorms. But yeah there is clearly more to surface wind intensity than eyewall replacement, that's just an example of something that is thought to play a role and that is definitely handled better with finer meshes (tropical is not my expertise).

            We're doing much better, but we've still got a lot of work to do to get hurr

    • The precision isnt even all that much greater either.

      In a 3D model, 8x resolution is just 2x along each axis. The summary (and possibly the article) makes it seem like they used to be very block but now its ultra sharp when in reality if it used to be 1km resolution now its 0.46km resolution.
      • by nadaou ( 535365 )

        The 3D model does not have the same resolution in the Z as it does in the X and Y. If it did you'd be way out in space. The number of Z levels may well have doubled, but more likely from about 10 to about 20 of them.

        • The resolution of the model is the spacing between horizontal grid points. Vertical levels are treated separately. A typical model now uses on the order of 50-100 vertical levels, which has increased substantially in recent years. Models tend to use sigma or eta levels, which are a vertical coordinate system that is terrain following, at least in the lower levels of the atmosphere. The grids are also vertically stretched, resulting in more grid points in the lower levels of the atmosphere. This is necessary
    • by camg188 ( 932324 )

      Imagine going from video game figures made of large chunky blocks to detailed human characters that visibly show beads of sweat on their forehead.

      But the game is still Pong.

  • by Ecuador ( 740021 ) on Saturday August 22, 2015 @09:55AM (#50369721) Homepage

    Nice and all, but the model resolution was never the problem. E.g. Katrina was going to hit whatever model we had, with not much warning. The problem was the response.

    • maybe bush should have parked those trucks in the disaster zone to be flooded? maybe people should have listened to the evacuation order and left the area?
      • People forget we had another disaster under Clinton, where it became obvious the head of FEMA was just a political spoils job, an incompetent. Officials swore no more! All FEMA appointees from here on out will be competent managers!

        "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie!"

      • by cusco ( 717999 ) <> on Saturday August 22, 2015 @12:41PM (#50370335)

        The poor couldn't leave, because free/cheap transportation wasn't available except in a few situations (church buses and the like). ( And if you're poor in Louisiana you're about as poor as you can get in the US.) Even many of the nursing homes weren't evacuated unless they were able to afford to arrange specialty transportation.

        Yeah, it would have been nice if more people had evacuated, but after a series of free market fanatics running the state government there just wasn't the capacity.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          An even more insurmountable problem is that New Orleans only has about 16-20 lanes of highway going out of it, thanks to all the surrounding wetlands. I put it to you that getting 500,000 (maybe more) people out on 20 lanes in 72 hours is, in fact, impossible at any price. Starting 24 hours before Katrina, I-10 was total parking lot from well south of Baton Rouge to the Texas state line (at least this was reported on the radio). Under normal conditions, this is a 4.5 hour drive.

    • I thought the problem was the many decades of managing the Mississippi which led to the ongoing disappearance of the marshes plus the development of the city on a very low area that was likely to flood.

    • The problem was the response.

      The problem was the decision not to shore up the levees. The problem is cutting corners to save pennies. The bigger problem is that we let them. Hurricanes don't have to be anything more than a nuisance. The disaster is man made [].

  • by JustOK ( 667959 )
    Now all their predictions are simply: It's gonna Rain Sideways!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How fast can 45K cores do auto-correct?

  • by killfixx ( 148785 ) * on Saturday August 22, 2015 @10:42AM (#50369897) Journal

    What the hell is a petfalop?


    Hooray beer!

    Why are typos so much funnier when drunk?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The computer saves the generated output in petafiles.

    • Because your brain was replaced by intoxicants!
  • Thats where the eye of the storm went over. Gulfport/Biloxi was completely destroyed but lets keep posting information about just New Orleans because.. ya know.
  • If one is approaching, be sure to stock up on plenty of munchies, beer and weed. Use a bunch of car batteries through an inverter to avoid the clanking, rattling generator.

    What else is there to know? I mean, besides not building matchstick homes so close to the open seas where there are hurricanes? And certainly not below sea level! What were they thinking? Trying to save a few pennies? You don't need high resolution to know that doing stuff on the cheap is pretty risky business. Though I'm sure the picture

  • What was wrong with Katrina-era models? We knew several days before it hit shore how bad Katrina was going to be... The issue was the pitiful evacuation, not the lack of advance notice.

    • Actually, no, that's not correct at all. Even as Katrina was crossing south Florida, three day forecasts were pretty far off. The forecasts certainly didn't call for it to become a major hurricane. Here are some forecast graphics for you: [] []

      The three day forecast called for a category 2 hurricane moving in the general direction of Panama City, FL. The rapid intensification of

  • by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Saturday August 22, 2015 @10:08PM (#50372291)
    It is nice to know a disaster will strike, but it is another story to handle it properly. Is there any progress here, or will we see again medias calling theives the people that seek survival by taking food from closed supermarkets?
  • "the supercomputer has more than 45,000 processor cores and runs at petfalops."

    So what happened here? Is this like the cubic centimeter limits for motors where if you go over a size limit new rules go into effect? Like you don't have to pay to register your supercomputer if it is under 2.000 "petfalops" (whatever the hell that is)?

    ...or did someone realize after it was built that Excel had been rounding on them, and they were 113 processors short of the 2 "petfalops" system specified in the bid?

  • All you need to know is how far from the coast you need to live. If people are stupid enough to live close to hurricane-prone shores, they are welcome to die for their housing choice.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson