UT Austin supercomputer helping agencies track Harvey

UT Professor Clint Dawson checks the latest model of Hurricane Harvey. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).
UT Professor Clint Dawson checks the latest model of Hurricane Harvey. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

AUSTIN (KXAN) — From his desk at an engineering building in Austin, University of Texas professor Clint Dawson has been tracking Hurricane Harvey powered by a supercomputer.

Dawson is part of a team of academics, from Louisiana to North Carolina, who have been trying to create better systems for compiling hurricane data since the 90s. It’s a system Dawson says they can count on to work every time.

Using the strength of the Lonestar 5 supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, Dawson and his colleagues download information from the National Hurricane Center and are able to update and automate it with high-resolution data. The information they gather are not forecasts but provide very detailed guidance which allows state agencies to see models for things like rising water levels with accuracy down to the neighborhood level.

“As far as academic computing, this is the best available that we have to us in the country,” Dawson said of the supercomputer they are using.

Dawson explained this is a level of detail that even National Hurricane Center forecasts don’t achieve

He added that agencies like the Texas State Operations Center, TxDOT, NOAA, and the National Hurricane Center consult the data his team produces when making decisions like where to evacuate and where to send resources.

UT Austin's Lonestar 5 supercomputer is being used to track potential impacts of Hurricane Harvey. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).
UT Austin’s Lonestar 5 supercomputer is being used to track potential impacts of Hurricane Harvey. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

“The State Operations Center can decide to use our guidance or they can decide to not use it,” Dawson said. “They tend to look at our results very carefully because we have done a good job of predicting hurricanes in the past.”

Dawson is monitoring this data hourly, he says it’s exciting to provide information that is helpful to people on the ground.

“This is what we live for, just like a storm chaser, like if you chase tornadoes you know you live for tornadoes. The flip side is people get hurt in these things and that’s what we’re trying to do is prevent that,” he said.

He added that he was surprised to note how much Harvey has escalated since Wednesday.

“Yesterday it wasn’t much and now today it’s something, you know it’s something big,” he said. “And it’s happening more and more, that hurricanes like this they blow up over night and suddenly we have a major event to deal with.”

His team will be tracking the hurricane at least through Saturday, you can track their latest updates about the storm here. As of Thursday afternoon, their models anticipated a maximum water surge level of 12 feet in areas around where Harvey will make landfall.

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