Everyone talks about the weather, but the organizers of the Beijing Olympics are doing something about it.
The Chinese government already moved the date of the games from late July to mid-August, to avoid the city's rainy season. According to China's traditional lunar calendar, Aug. 7 is the start of fall. After that date, the mercury traditionally drops, and hailstorms, heat waves and other climatic headaches are less likely to occur.
Nevertheless, August remains one of the warmest and wettest months of the year in China. To help ensure the opening ceremony goes off without a weather hitch, Chinese officials will have a battery of cannons on standby for cloud seeding. The idea is to shoot silver iodide pellets into the clouds to direct any rainfall away from Olympic venues.
Seeding clouds is a hit-or-miss technology, and so is forecasting the Beijing weather. But the Chinese are doing their best to eliminate the guesswork. The Beijing Meteorological Bureau has invested in an IBM supercomputer to help it gauge weather and air quality during the games. For good measure, the BMB will also house the latest forecasting systems from Australia, Canada, France, Japan and the United States.
The bureau's IBM System p575 supercomputer is capable of sweeping an area up to 44,000 km2 to provide hourly weather forecasts based on numerical data for each square kilometer. The p575 will provide 10 times the computational power of the BMB's current weather-forecasting system. In addition to providing up-to-the-hour forecasts, it will be used to help predict air quality in Beijing and to improve the accuracy of forecasts in the regions surrounding the capital.
According to IBM, weather and climate modeling are prime workloads for the p575 system, as are other high-performance computing applications such as computational chemistry, physics, computer-aided engineering, computational fluid dynamics and petroleum exploration. The 80-node system, which uses Power5+ microprocessors, delivers peak performance of 9.8 teraflops.
Other forecasting systems from around the globe will reside at the Beijing Meteorological Bureau during the games to supply two kinds of data: up to six-hour "nowcasts," which rely more heavily on expert systems interpreting the available observations, and six- to 36-hour forecasts based on mesoscale ensemble models that will be made available from the China Meteorological Administration (CMA).
The goal is to provide better weather-forecasting services for the games and to expose the CMA forecasters to the most advanced weather-prediction techniques in the world, as well as to further the transfer of technology to other countries, according to CMA.
The Beijing exercise is a follow-up to the Forecast Demonstration Project held during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. That Australian initiative provided an opportunity for fore- casters and researchers from agencies around the globe to work toward a common goal of improving forecasting services during a highly visible international event.
Forecasters will evaluate the systems immediately after the games to assess the scientific accuracy of the various models and their ability to deliver the desired social and economic benefits.
The experiences from the forecasting and demonstration projects during the Beijing 2008 Olympics will be published as a technical document by the World Meteorological Organization's World Weather Research Program. According to the WMO, the project will be able to predict the amount of rain, in millimeters, likely to fall in a designated area.p