Sometime D Magazine contributor Brantley Hargrove — who is muscled, clean-shaven, with Greco-Romanesque locks — has himself a story in this month’s Wired that you should read. It is titled “Into the Vortex: Megacomputers and the Quest to Understand Superstorms.” A taste:
At the edge of emerald fields of corn and soybeans sits the National Petascale Computing Facility, the crown jewel of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. The 88,000-square-foot glass-covered facility looks like a fancy convention center, and it’s surrounded by a black steel fence strong enough to stop a speeding Mack truck. Past a retina scanner and through a heavy-gauge steel door resides a computer named Blue Waters. It’s big—spanning 10,000 square feet—and it’s made up of 288 matte-black rack towers that house the 27,000 nodes that are the key to its power. Each node holds two microprocessors, not unlike a stripped-down PC but faster than anything you’ll find at Best Buy.
Since powering up in 2013, Blue Waters has been one of the few computers in the world capable of processing the biggest of big data sets, encompassing everything from the evolution of the universe to the global spread of flu pandemics. It’s also one of the only machines in the world that can model the staggering complexities of a supertornado, which is exactly what an atmospheric scientist named Leigh Orf spent the better part of 2013 failing to do.