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The 404 1,205: Where we paint by numbers (podcast)

Leaked from today's 404 episode:

- Hacker exposes George Bush's family photos, portraits.

Wait, so PS4 won't have better graphics?

- J.J. Abrams may direct a Portal and/or Half-Life movie!

- Snow panic has driven Weather.com completely insane.

- Patent troll says he owns "podcasting," sues Adam Corolla, HowStuffWorks.… Read more

NOAA supercomputers to forecast better weather?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week that it has finally completed a nine-year, $180 million project aimed at installing new supercomputers to aid in more accurately predicting weather. The primary IBM supercomputer is now called Stratus. Its backup is dubbed Cirrus.

The new supercomputers, based on IBM Power 575 Systems, are capable of making 69.7 trillion calculations per second. According to NOAA, the faster the calculation speeds, the greater the chances that meteorologists can rapidly update severe weather forecasts as dangerous weather affects local communities. Billions of bytes are entered into the supercomputers each day to help predict the weather more accurately.

Just how important NOAA's new supercomputers are to our understanding and prediction of weather is easily understated.

Right now, Stratus contains about 20 weather models that predict worldwide weather accurately for about five days. A few decades ago, weather models could forecast weather accurately up to only about two days.

Those 20 weather models rarely change. They analyze conditions such as temperature, humidity, and precipitation to give organizations ranging from the National Weather Service to local meteorologists data on which they can base forecasts.

According to Ben Kyger, director of central operations for the National Center of Environmental Prediction, a division of NOAA, "We analyze weather conditions on grids we lay over maps of the world. In order for meteorologists to accurately predict a hurricane's path, for example, NOAA needs to pinpoint weather conditions in 1-kilometer grids of distance." Right now, those spans "are not even close to that."

How does it work? In order to improve forecasting, a lot of work needs to be done. Right now, scientists from around the world are analyzing Stratus' weather models to find ways to improve them. When they think that they've come up with an improvement, NOAA analyzes the new models.

If it likes what it sees, NOAA takes it open source. It installs the new model on the Cirrus supercomputer to run in parallel with the approved model on Stratus. Scientists, weather experts, and even you and I can view the new model and inspect it for errors. Errors found are removed or tweaked. If no errors can be found, and the new data enhances weather forecasting, it will be put into operation and replace the existing model that it improved upon.… Read more

Google Earth adds weather to its repertoire

As of today, Google Earth can finally tell you what the weather is like while you zoom around the 3D representation of our planet. The app has a new layer that lets you toggle cloud cover, Doppler radar, and conditions and forecasts, which will show you what's on tap in each region using information aggregated from Weather.com. There's also an "information" link that has more background about each of the services and links to download the 6- and 24-hour cloud animations, which can be controlled using playback buttons in the top right of your screen. It looks just like you've seen on any TV weather report, except you have complete control on the playback slider, and can drag is backward and forward ad nauseum to bend the clouds to your will (it's great fun).

I couldn't manage to get the "conditions and forecasts" sublayer to activate with the latest build for Windows, but maybe that's just me. Everything else works marvelously, including the Doppler radar that Google claims is "near real-time," which is a reasonable considering it's updated every 15 minutes--about what you'd find at most weather sites. The data for Doppler comes from Weather.com and is limited to the contiguous United States, with plans to roll it out to Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Europe "shortly." All other regions of the globe are limited to cloud cover and forecasts, which Google pins at somewhere around 50,000 cities worldwide.… Read more

Intellicast: Weather made pretty

Intellicast weather service rolled out a new beta version of its site last week. Users have access to all the usual Internet weather services like local, national, and international forecasts, plus daily summaries with detailed information. For those who are wary to ditch their speedy weather widget to check the forecast, Intellicast employs Ajax for no-loading browsing--making it a fair bit more compelling than the average Internet weather service.

I could go on with boring details about barometric pressure and how the sunrise and sunset icons make me happy, but I'll spare you. You can check out Intellicast beta here.Read more