Linux-based grid boosts weather warning project

A consortium of universities and businesses has unveiled a five-year, $40m research project to develop a system using small,...

A consortium of universities and businesses has unveiled a five-year, $40m research project to develop a system using small, short-range radar devices to improve forecasting of storms, tornados, flash floods and other severe weather.

Led by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (Casa) will work to find ways to improve today's weather radar systems, said Jim Kurose, a professor of computer science at the school. 

IBM will support the effort by providing 57 blade servers and related software to create a Linux-based, on-demand grid computing system that will be able to grow with the project, said Daniel Bonelli, an IBM vice president of industry solutions marketing.

By using an on-demand grid computing system, higher computing needs can be cranked up instantly when a storm hits to help analyse the data collected, while computing resources could be reconfigured instantly if a storm destroys part of the system. 

Existing weather radars are large-scale, high-powered systems that must be aimed at angles toward the atmosphere. However, the curvature of the earth means they leave large sections of the lower atmosphere unmonitored, including the lowest two miles of the atmosphere where tornadoes, hurricanes, rain storms and other major weather events occur. 

The first year of the project will include the design and fabrication of the smaller radar systems, which will be deployed at three test locations. The target price for the radar devices is about $20,000 each. They will be mounted on cellular phone towers, municipal buildings and in other locations. 

The data-collection phase of the project is slated to begin in the third year.

Casas first field test is slated for mid-2005. The system will be set up in Oklahoma, and it will cover roughly 20% of the state, where about 22 tornadoes occur each year.

The second test will be in Houston, where Casa will deploy a system to predict floods more accurately. A third test system in Puerto Rico will be designed to improve the monitoring of hurricanes as they approach the island.

The project is being funded by a $17m grant from the National Science Foundation, $5m from the state of Massachusetts and contributions from other participating universities and businesses, including the University of Oklahoma, Colorado State University, the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, IBM, Raytheon, M/A-COM and The Weather Channel.

Also participating are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Severe Storms Laboratory, the National Weather Service and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Todd R Weiss writes for Computerworld

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