Britain is to become a world leader in weather forecasting and climate change research after the Government unveiled a £97m supercomputer capable of performing 16,000 trillion calculations per second.
The 140-tonne computer – known as Cray@XC40 – will enable the Met Office to make predictions that have previously been unthinkable because of the vast quantities of data involved.
For instance, 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 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, the Met Office said.
Overall, the improved weather forecasts could save the UK £2bn a year through measures such as helping households prepare for floods, telling transport operators to anticipate heavy snow and letting farmers decide what crops to grow. It will be up and running at the Met Office’s Exeter headquarters next September, although it will not be fully operational until 2017.
10 best rain jackets
10 best rain jackets
1/10 Trespass Qikpak Waterproof Packaway Jacket
Coming in five bright colour combos, this one will keep you dry and sheltered from the wind, without adding too much weight to your pack. Unlike some cheaper models, it’s breathable so you won’t get too hot and sticky. It folds down super-quick into a lightweight pouch that you can keep within easy reach for when the heavens open. £24.99, trespass.com
2/10 Berghaus Thunder Gore-Tex Jacket
New for this season and great value for a Gore-Tex jacket, this breathable and completely waterproof jacket comes in men’s and women’s versions and in plenty of colours. £160, berghaus.com
3/10 Boden Rainy Day Mac
Spots, flowers, abstract patterns and even the Houses of Parliament are some of the nine designs you can get this handy mac in. Just want something plain? It comes in no-frills black or yellow too. Smart enough for work, but comfy and durable.£119, boden.co.uk
4/10 Jack Wolfskin Topaz II
Unlike some cheaper models, this technical jacket will keep you bone dry when the heavens open. Available in various colours, it will even do you proud if you’re planning a walking trip of several days, and the underarm zips make for good ventilation.£150, jack-wolfskin.co.uk
5/10 Helly Hansen W Stanley Park H2 Flow
This sporty-cut rain jacket is brilliant at providing rapid ventilation when needed, which means it works in an exceptionally wide range of temperatures. No need, then, for a separate rain jacket for your transitional wardrobe and its lining is quick-dry too. £160, hellyhansen.com
6/10 Superdry Arctic Windcheater
An outdoor jacket that will leave you wondering how you ever did without one. Fleece-lined and well-made, it has a well-fitting hood, strong zips, good-sized pockets and it does the job of keeping you dry. It looks great and there are various colourways.£69.99, superdry.com
7/10 Regatta Stormbreak
This is a classic throw-on waterproof that’s made from a hard-wearing fabric that no amount of rain or wind seems able to beat. The taped seams, elasticated sleeves and adjustable drawcord hem mean there’s extra reassurance, and it’s got a loose fit, so you can wrap up warm underneath. £18, regatta.com
8/10 The North Face Women’s Resolve Jacket
This one’s seam-sealed and will keep you dry even in the worst weather. No need to get hot and sticky as it sheds water and allows your body to breathe whether you’re walking, trekking or skiing.£100, thenorthface.co.uk
9/10 Topman Grey Printed Parka
This machine-washable, lightweight printed parka is easy to slip into a bag in case the weather takes a turn for the worse and its cool design means you stay looking good too, whether you’re on a muddy field or city streets. Available in XXS to XXL, it’s easy to get a good fit too. £50, topman.com
10/10 Seasalt Seafolly Jacket
Based in Cornwall, there’s not much Seasalt doesn’t know about how to handle downpours. Better still, this jacket, which is available in several colours, is inspired by fishermen. Not only does it look the part, with roomy pockets and nautical-looking toggle and rope fastening, but it’s windproof and breathable too. £79.95, seasaltcornwall.co.uk
Met Office chief executive Rob Varley said the supercomputer would lead to a “step change in weather forecasting and climate prediction”.
Reflecting on when he first became a forecaster 30 years ago, he said: “In those days, we could have a pretty good stab at doing today and, perhaps tomorrow, but not much beyond that. Over the years we have gained about a day a decade, so now we can predict the next four days with the accuracy that we once did for one day.
“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.”
As well as improving the reliability of weather forecasts, the computer will help scientists unravel some of the great climate mysteries, such as whether we can expect to see fewer, but more intense, tropical storms such as Katrina this century – a hypothesis that has been made but not proved.
Scientists are also hoping to use the computer to establish when the oceans might begin releasing heat back into the atmosphere after a prolonged period of absorbing global temperature rises.
But despite the machine’s sophistication, Mr Varley cautioned that it would not be infallible. Asked if the supercomputer would have avoided the “barbeque summer” incident of 2009 – when the Met’s long-term forecast of a hot summer preceded washouts throughout July and August, he said: “It’s never going to be possible to predict in May which of the week’s in August is best to take my holiday in.”Reuse content