Su­per­size su­per­cell su­per­sim­u­la­tion

Popular Science - - CHARTED -

SU­PER­CELL THUN­DER­STORMS ARE GI­ANT TEMPESTS with pow­er­ful ro­tat­ing up­drafts at their cores—and one out of ev­ery four or five spawn tor­na­does. Most of these twisters are lit­tle, but some can grow fierce. To pre­dict the rare killers—and thus give more­tar­geted warn­ings—me­te­o­rol­o­gists need to bet­ter un­der­stand how tor­na­does form. But sim­u­lat­ing a su­per­cell thun­der­storm and the

tor­nado it pro­duces in­volves hun­dreds of ter­abytes of data—an amount so vast that Leigh Orf, an at­mo­spheric sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin at Madi­son, had to use a su­per­com­puter to make it hap­pen.

Some of that data came from the sheer size of the storm (sim­i­lar su­per­cells can stretch more than 12 miles high). But Orf needed most of the power in or­der to cap­ture all the de­tails and see the whole sys­tem at a high res­o­lu­tion. To get started, he used ob­ser­va­tions from an ac­tual storm that raged through cen­tral Ok­la­homa in 2011. Then he cre­ated a dig­i­tal ver­sion sim­i­lar to the real thing, spin­ning to­gether the most high-res­o­lu­tion su­per­cell sim­u­la­tion ever made. “For the first time, we’ve been able to peer into the in­ner work­ings of a su­per­cell that pro­duces a tor­nado, and we’re able to watch that process oc­cur,” Orf says.

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