Supercomputers Helped New Orleans prepare for Hurricane Isaac

Hurricane Isaac made landfall last night west of New Orleans, dumping over a foot of rain on the city. Over at Computerworld, Patrick Thibodeau writes that improved supercomputer modeling helped New Orleans plan better for the storm surge.

In 2005, when Katrina landed, the capability to model storm surge, while good, may be rudimentary compared to what is available today. Back then, Louisiana used computer models with as many as 300,000 “nodes” and it took six hours to run a simulation. Each node represents a different location on a map where compute algorithms run physics computations that determine what will happen during a hurricane. The number of nodes is somewhat analogous to higher number of dots per square inch in a photograph: the more dots, the more detail that’s available. Today, says Robert Twilley, an oceanographer and executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant Program, simulations with some 1.5 million nodes can be completed in 1.5 hours.

“It’s incredible — this is just since Katrina,” said Twilley.

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