A new £97m supercomputer will make the UK’s weather forecasts the most accurate in the world, according to the Met Office.
The High-Performance Computer (HPC) will be developed for the Met Office – the body responsible for predicting the weather in the UK – by US manufacturer Cray and will be 13 times more powerful than the system currently used by its meteorologists.
The Met Office has faced criticism of its forecasts in recent years, after it predicted a ''barbecue summer'' in 2009 only for it to rain throughout much of June, July and August. Its prediction of a mild winter was then followed by the country's worst snowfalls for three decades, prompting the agency to call time on its seasonal forecasts, saying they were too hard to predict.
But it said the new system, to be introduced in phases from next September, would "cement the UK's position as a world leader in weather and climate prediction" by vastly increasing its computer power.
Met Office chief executive Rob Varley said: "We are very excited about this new investment in UK science. It will lead to a step change in weather forecasting and climate prediction and give us the capability to strengthen our collaborations with partners in the south-west, UK and around the world.
"The new supercomputer, together with improved observations, science and modelling, will deliver better forecasts and advice to support UK business, the public and government. It will help to make the UK more resilient to high-impact weather and other environmental risks."
The HPC will be the first upgrade to the Met Office's forecasting computer system since 2008, when it plugged in the current IBM Power 7, and will be based at the Met Office and Exeter Science Park.
The new system, which will weigh in at 140 tonnes, consists of multiple Cray XC40 supercomputers, has 20 petabytes of storage and is capable of 16 petaflops, or 16,000 trillion calculations, per second.
Increasing the power of the system will allow forecasters to give hourly updates and highly detailed weather information for local areas, for example applying very high-resolution models – as fine as 300m – to predict the risk and timing of fog over airports.
The new capabilities will also enable scientists to make accurate UK winter forecasts months ahead and assess the specific regional impacts of climate change such as floods, droughts and heat waves.
The government claims the machine could deliver up to £2bn of socio-economic benefits to the UK by enabling better advance preparation and contingency plans to protect homes and businesses from the effects of severe weather.
Universities, Science and Cities Minister Greg Clark said: "This is an investment that says the UK believes in science, putting us up there with the very best in the world enabled by technology that will make huge strides in weather and climate forecasting.
"I have been eager to make this happen for some time, and I am confident that the supercomputer will make this nation more resilient and better prepared for high-impact weather and boost the economy – improving lives up and down the country."
The first phase of the supercomputer will be operational in September 2015 and the system will reach full capacity in 2017.
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