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Japanese Supercomputer to Make 30-Year Weather Forecasts

Japan is planning ultra long-range 30-year weather forecasts that will predict typhoons, storms, blizzards, droughts and other inclement weather, an official said Tuesday.

The project, to start next year, will harness the powers of one of the world's fastest supercomputers and is an offshoot of ongoing research by the country's science ministry to map global warming trends for the next 300 years.

Using the Earth Simulator supercomputer, housed in a hangar-sized building in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo, Japan's science ministry hopes to calculate long-term patterns in the interaction of atmospheric pressure, air temperatures, ocean currents and sea temperatures, said Tomonori Otake, an official with the ministry's earth environment bureau.

The results will help establish predictable routes for typhoons and identify areas that are recurring targets for heavy rains, abundant snow, high waves, heavy winds, scorching heat or crop-threatening droughts.

"Now we can see what areas are at risk and start thinking about what kind of countermeasures to take," Otake said.

Early warning could enable the government to allocate money and resources to potential disaster areas before disaster strikes.

The ministry is now outlining the parameters of the project and will accept bids from researchers with an eye toward starting the program by next spring. A budget is not yet set, but it could cost in the area of $26 million a year.

The Earth Simulator, introduced in 2002, was the world's fastest supercomputer until 2004, when IBM's Blue Gene took the title. But the $350 million computer still performs 35.6 trillion calculations a second, more computations than there are stars in our galaxy.

The machine tracks global sea temperatures, rainfall and crustal movement to predict natural disasters over the next centuries. As part of the project, Japan eyes forecasts for the entire planet for areas as small as 1.9 square miles.

But don't plan on locking in sunny weather for that planned family picnic in July 2036. These forecasts are only general trends.

"Just like the daily forecast, we can't give a percentage for how accurate they are," Otake said.