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Hurricane Odile lands at XSEDE16

Speed read
  • Entrant in the XSEDE visualization showcase shows a hurricance making landfall.
  • Visualization demonstrates extreme complexity of hurricanes.
  • Understanding intensification and dissipation will aid emergency response.

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what value is a visualization of a hurricane? Since predicting the correct track and intensity of tropical cyclones is key for planning and preparedness – and thus preserving life and property – the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) thinks the value couldn’t be higher. 

Show me the Vizzy!

At the visualization showcase at XSEDE16, there was no shortage of important scientific applications on display. The visualization of Hurricane Odile is a perfect example of US supercomputing resources employed to improve the lives of its citizens.

Oh dear, Odile! Category four hurricane Odile is shown making landfall near Cabo San Lucas. It enters the continent with 125 mph winds before gradually weakening as it tracks along the length of the Baja peninsula. Ultimately, it dissipates over the Mexican mainland and the Southwestern US. Courtesy NCAR Visualization Laboratory.

Thanks to advances in computational resources, hurricane forecasting has come a long way in recent years. But despite these gains, it remains challenging for forecasters and weather modelers to predict how quickly a storm will intensify or deteriorate.

Matt Rehme, Mrinal Biswas, and Tim Scheitlin from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) created a storm visualization to demonstrate how the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast (HWRF) system at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is used to simulate and study extreme weather events.

“Some of the horizontal cloud scales range from a few meters to several kilometers,” says Biswas. “They interact with each other and hence the problem is complex. For these complex interactions, high-resolution models are needed to figure out the processes at work when storms rapidly intensify or weaken.”

To simulate the complexity of Hurricane Odile, the researchers looked to NOAA’s Jet supercomputer. In all, the project required 477 processors to run the simulation. A five-day forecast takes around five hours, and generates about 500 GB.

<strong>Studying the storm. </strong>This entrant into the XSEDE16 visualization showcase uses imagery from NASA's Visible Earth Project to show storm attributes such as precipitation levels, wind speed, relative humidity, and vorticity. Courtesy NCAR Visualization Laboratory.

For their excellent efforts, the team’s visualization was selected to appear in the XSEDE16 showcase. “It is an honor to be selected and to take part,” says Scheitlin. “What a great opportunity for us to advance scientific understanding  and to demonstrate how advanced computing technologies are used to model and visualize complex weather events.”

Demographic trends indicate that coastal populations are on the rise, and emergency evacuations are a significant hurdle for city managers. Resources like the HWRF provide the guidance meteorologists require to inform residents about impending weather events.

When placed in the context of two million deaths worldwide that might have been prevented over the last two centuries, the worth of XSEDE computer models is virtually priceless. 

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