Met Office and Microsoft to build world-leading computer to forecast weather

Jamie Harris
·3 min read

The Met Office and Microsoft are to build a world-leading supercomputer capable of providing more accurate warnings of severe weather as part of a multimillion-pound agreement.

It is expected to be the most advanced machine of its kind dedicated to weather and climate, ranking among the top 25 supercomputers in the world and twice as powerful as any other in the UK, the Met Office said.

The supercomputer has a 10-year lifespan and is due to start working from summer 2022, based in the south of the UK.

It comes as the country tries to better prepare for the impacts of increasingly extreme storms, floods and snow.

The technology will be able to produce more detailed models, improve forecasting of local-scale weather using high resolution simulations, as well as supplying the aviation industry with more accurate forecasts of wind and temperature.

Penny Endersby, chief executive of the Met Office, told the PA news agency people may not realise the full effects the supercomputer will have because it will help to prevent disasters such as flooding.

“In the short term, you will see a more accurate weather forecast that may be more detailed to your area and you may be able to tailor it more, but actually it impacts your lives in ways you don’t know about because, for example, we provide services to aviation, that enables planes to fly more efficiently and safely by knowing exactly where the winds are going to be and where turbulence is going to be, so you won’t realise that the supercomputer is making your flight safer, smoother, more efficient, but it will be,” she explained to PA.

“Equally, as climate change develops and policy makers make choices about how much bigger tidal barrier we need or where to build flood defences, your home won’t flood and you’ll think you were lucky, but you won’t be lucky, other people will have planned for you, to say, well actually, we know how big a tidal surge could get because it’s been well modelled, we understand the flood risk from more intense surface rainfall and therefore we’ve prepared in advance, so a lot of that is actually the downsides you won’t see as well as the upsides you will see.”

The development follows a commitment by the Government in February 2020 to pump £1.2 billion of funding into building the state-of-the-art supercomputer, as it attempts to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.

It will also be one of the world’s most environmentally sustainable supercomputers, powered using 100% renewable energy, which is expected to save 7,415 tonnes CO2 in its first year of operation.

Clare Barclay, chief executive of Microsoft UK, said: “The Met Office has long been synonymous with excellence and innovation in our understanding of the impact of weather and climate.

“To make progress with the ecological challenges we face requires innovation, technology and partnerships.

“The potential of the deep expertise, data gathering capacity and historical archive of the Met Office, combined with the sheer scale and power of supercomputing on Microsoft Azure will mean we can improve forecasting, help tackle climate change and ensure the UK remains at the forefront of climate science for decades to come.”

Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said the partnership is a “ringing endorsement for the UK’s credentials in protecting our environment” as we prepare to host COP26 later this year.

“The new supercomputer, backed by a billion pound UK Government investment, will act as a catalyst for unlocking new skills, technologies and jobs right across our economy – from data scientists to AI experts – all as part of our efforts to build back better and create a cleaner future.”

Watch: Microsoft President on the company's investments in carbon removal