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Computing Weather's Wild Side

Luis A. Muñoz and Robert B. Wilhelmson, NCSA and Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, UIUC
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Residents of "tornado alley" in the midwestern U.S. are well aware of the power of tornados; they cause substantial death and destruction each year. Tales of entire houses being lifted off the foundation or of pieces of straw stuck in trees abound. The storms that spawn tornados are generally fast-moving, short-lived, and notoriously unpredictable.

Supercell Tornado Simulation

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The first step toward predicting tornados is understanding how they form and develop. Tornado chasers--those brave souls who hop into their cars to observe tornadoes precisely when everyone else is headed for their underground shelters--have learned a lot about the funnel clouds simply by capturing them on film. But they can't actually get inside the tornado itself (and live to tell about it). That's why atmospheric scientist, Robert Wilhelmson, and his colleagues at UIUC Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences and NCSA are simulating the severe storm conditions that trigger tornados and drive their development.

Non-Supercell Tornado Simulation

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At Supercomputing '95, the scientists were able to interact with their simulations in the CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment), a virtual reality room in which viewers can "immerse" themselves within the digital storm. Safe in their artifical world, viewers can observe the funnel clouds form from the outside, much as a tornado chaser would, then zoom in on specific features within the whirlwind. At the wave of a wand, they'll release thousands of tracer particles and watch their movement over time.

The gigabytes of data generated from a tornado simulation, originally ran on the CM-5 supercomputer at NCSA, were ported to a 16 processor dedicated SGI Power Challenge. This data was sent over the very fast (155 megabits per second) vNBS network to viewers in the CAVE at Supercomputing '95 as well as to collaborators in remotely connected CAVEs.

Altogether an impressive spectacle.

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Copyright, (c) 1995: Board of Trustees, University of Illinois

NCSA. Last modified 10/21/95.