The 140-tonne computer known as CrayXC40 will enable the Met Office to make predictions that have previously been unthinkable because of the vast quantities of data involved. The Cray XC40 machine will have 480,000 central processing units or CPUs, which is 12 times as many as the current Met Office supercomputer, made by IBM.
The new system will be housed partly at the Met Office headquarters in Exeter and partly at a new facility in the Exeter Science Park, and will reach its full capacity in 2017.
Met Office chief executive Rob Varley said the supercomputer would lead to a step change in weather forecasting and climate prediction. He also added, “I’m confident that we will go to five days, six days and beyond given the step change in power that we have here. I can’t say exactly how much better it will be in five years but I am absolutely confident we will improve.”
Science minister Greg Clark added, “We will be the world leader not only in talking about the weather but forecasting it too.”
The new computer should be able to predict with a high degree of accuracy whether there will be fog on Heathrow’s runways in 12 hours’ time, giving the airport time to make contingency plans. Currently, they can accurately predict patches of fog over the south of England but have no idea where.
The Met Office said that the computer will also enable forecasters to pinpoint potential floods with much greater accuracy and reliability, as well as providing longer-term, more dependable and detailed forecasts for sunshine, fog, frost and ice.