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Weathering a New Era of Big Data

By Samuel Greengard

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 57 No. 9, Pages 12-14

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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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