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Communications of the ACM


Weathering a New Era of Big Data

visualization depicting atmospheric humidity

A visualization of data from the NASA Center for Climate Simulation, a state-of-the-art supercomputing facility in Greenbelt, MD, that runs complex models to help scientists better understand global climate. This visualization depicts atmospheric humidity

Credit: Trent Schinder / NASA Goddard - UMBC

Throughout history, mankind has attempted to gain a better understanding of weather and forecast it more accurately. From ancient observations about wind direction, cloud formations, and barometric pressure to more recent attempts to accumulate data from satellites, sensors, and other sources, weather forecasting has both fascinated and infuriated everyone from picnickers to farmers and emergency responders. It is, in a word, unpredictable.

Yet over the last two decades, thanks to increasingly powerful computers, big data, and more sophisticated modeling and simulations, weather forecasting has been steadily moving forward. Amid growing concerns about global warming and more volatile weather and climate patterns, researchers are attempting to develop better algorithms and systems. Says Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, "Numerical data is the core technology of weather prediction. Everything is dependent upon it."


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