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Extreme weather warning supercomputer predicted for Met Office and Microsoft

Image credit: Met Office/Microsoft

The Met Office and Microsoft are to collaborate to build a supercomputer – the most advanced of its kind – capable of providing accurate warnings of severe weather events, as part of a multimillion-pound agreement.

The supercomputer is due to begin operating in summer 2022 in the south of the UK and will have a 10-year lifespan.

It will produce more detailed models for risk planning based on improved environmental and social data; improve forecasting of local-scale weather using high-resolution simulations, which can be switched on for an area at risk, and will supply the aviation industry with more accurate forecasts for wind and temperature.

The announcement comes as the UK attempts to prepare for the impact of increasingly frequent extreme weather events – such as floods and heat waves – associated with climate change.

“In the short term, you will see a more accurate weather forecast that may be more detailed to your area and you may be able to tailor it more, but actually it impacts your lives in ways you don’t know about,” said Penny Endersby, CEO of the Met Office, speaking to the PA news agency.

“For example, we provide services to aviation that enables planes to fly more efficiently and safely by knowing exactly where the winds are going to be and where turbulence is going to be, so you won’t realise that the supercomputer is making your flight safer, smoother, more efficient, but it will be.

“Equally, as climate change develops and policy makers make choices about how much bigger tidal barrier we need or where to build flood defences, your home won’t flood and you’ll think you were lucky, but you won’t be lucky, other people will have planned for you, to say, 'Well actually, we know how big a tidal surge could get because it’s been well modelled, we understand the flood risk from more intense surface rainfall and therefore we’ve prepared in advance', so a lot of that is actually the downsides you won’t see as well as the upsides you will see.”

The Met Office said that the supercomputer will be among the top 25 supercomputers in the world - twice as powerful as any other machine in the UK - and the most advanced of its kind dedicated to weather and climate forecasting. The agreement follows a government commitment to invest £1.2bn into building a state-of-the-art supercomputer.

According to a press statement, it will also be among the greenest supercomputers, powered using 100 per cent renewable energy.

Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK, commented: “The Met Office has long been synonymous with excellence and innovation in our understanding of the impact of weather and climate. To make progress with the ecological challenges we face requires innovation, technology and partnerships.

“The potential of the deep expertise, data-gathering capacity and historical archive of the Met Office, combined with the sheer scale and power of supercomputing on Microsoft Azure will mean we can improve forecasting, help tackle climate change and ensure the UK remains at the forefront of climate science for decades to come.”

Kwasi Kwarteng, the government's business secretary, added: “The new supercomputer, backed by a billion-pound UK Government investment, will act as a catalyst for unlocking new skills, technologies and jobs right across our economy, from data scientists to AI experts.”

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