The Rain in Spain

By Steve Conway

September 1, 2006

Located on the Iberian peninsula, Spain's climate is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and numerous mountain ranges. Such topography contributes to very high rainfall and gale force winds each Autumn. These types of extreme weather events are one of the main concerns of Dr. Garcia-Moya, a meteorologist who heads the Numerical Weather Prediction Group of Spain's Instituto Nacional de Meteorología (National Meteorological Institute), or INM. The INM provides weather products to a variety of customers and also teams with other agencies on climate research. In a recent interview, Dr. Garcia-Moya talks with HPCwire about the history, current challenges and future goals of meteorology in Spain.

HPCwire: Tell me about INM's history and mission. How and when did the center come into being, and what do you do?

Garcia-Moya: The origin of meteorology as an official service in Spain dates back to 1860, although regular meteorological observations were performed long before that. The Central Institute of Meteorology was created in 1887, and by 1893 isobaric charts and forecasts were being delivered regularly. The institute's first headquarters at the Retiro Park in Madrid is still operating as an office of the service. Over the years, the meteorological service was developed under different ministries. Responsibilities for weather observation and forecasts were shared with other institutions until 1906, when the Central Institute took charge of providing all the meteorological and climatological services in Spain. After that date, no other meteorological services existed in the country, except for the years of the civil war (1936-1939) and the brief independence of the regional service in Catalonia.

By 1932, the quick development of aviation had spread its influence over the renamed National Meteorological Service, which was re-organized under the National Directorate of Aeronautics. Each of the contenders during Spain's civil war operated two meteorological services. In 1939, the service was assigned to the military Ministry of the Air. In 1978, it was moved to the Ministry of Transports and received its current name (National Institute of Meteorology, INM). In 1996, the INM was attached to the new Ministry of the Environment.

Today, the INM is a General Directorate of the Ministry of the Environment. It is responsible for all official meteorological and climatological functions in Spain, including aeronautical and maritime services, as well as meteorological support for national defense.

HPCwire: What are the main characteristics of Spain's weather? I assume fog and cyclones are important along the Mediterranean coast.

Garcia-Moya: Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula and consequently its climate is conditioned by effects coming from the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Mediterranean Sea on the East, and a wide variety of mountains ranges, such as the Pyrenees, the Cantabric Range and others. Cold, dry winters and hot, dry summers are the predominant climatic features in central Spain. Along the coast, winters and summers are less extreme and wetter. Daily weather is defined mainly by cyclones and cold fronts coming from the Atlantic Ocean.
However, extreme weather events are our main concern. The western Mediterranean Sea is almost closed off and is surrounded by the Alps, the Pyrenees and other high mountains ranges. During autumn, the sea is usually warmer than the air above it, and convective phenomena frequently take place. Every year we have a few events that produce precipitation above 200 millimeters (approximately 8 inches) in a few hours. Our record from 1982 is around 800 mm, or 2.6 feet, in 24 hours, in Gandia. Other extreme events produce gale force winds. Local winds like the Tramontana blow over the Balearic Islands, making sailing very dangerous.

HPCwire: What are INM's weather products? Do you do daily forecasts and weekly forecasts? Other types of forecasts?

Garcia-Moya: We deliver a wide variety of weather products to fulfill the needs of our customers. The INM produces hundreds of weather forecasts every day for the general public (delivered via TV and other media) and for civil defense, aviation, defense, power supply companies, navigation and so on. We deliver short-range forecasts of extreme events, one to three day forecasts, and medium-range forecasts. A seasonal forecast is also issued once a month.

HPCwire: Who are the main customers for INM's weather forecasts? How are these forecasts used?

Garcia-Moya: Of course, our main customer is the Spanish government, through the Civil Protection and Defense departments. In the private sector, aviation is the primary customer. Then TV and media come and after these, the power companies. The growing trend toward wind power generation is making this sector very interested in wind forecasts. The INM closely follows the evolution of this market in Spain and Europe as well.

HPCwire: What weather models do you use?

Garcia-Moya: It depends on the forecast range. For medium-range forecasts we use the ECMWF model. Using products from its EPS (Ensemble Prediction System), we produce probabilistic forecasts. For short-range forecasts, we use the ECMWF deterministic model and the HIRLAM model, which is the main operational model of INM. We are in the midst of a project to build an ensemble system for the short-range, mainly for extreme events, using the multi-model technique. In this project we use HIRLAM, MM5 and UM (Unified Model from the UKMO) models, as well as the Lokal Model from the COSMO consortium and HRM from DWD (German Weather Service).

HPCwire: I assume INM has relationships with other weather and climate research centers. Can you describe those relationships?

Garcia-Moya: We can split our relationships into two groups. The first group is the European Met Services that are in the HIRLAM project (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, Ireland and France). We are part of the project as well, so our link is very strong. Our other set of relationships is with the other Met Services in Europe: the UK Met Office, the German Weather Service, and so on. Of course, we have very special relationships with met services in South and Central America.

For climate research, our main relationships are with the Rossby Centre of Sweden, the Hadley Centre in the UK, and the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology in Germany.

HPCwire: What are you doing in climate research?

Garcia-Moya: INM's main activity in climate research involves downscaling to Spain the main results coming from global models. We use both dynamical and statistical methods.

HPCwire: How long has INM been using high performance computing? Which HPC systems and tools are you using today?

Garcia-Moya: Our first “supercomputer” was an IBM 360/40 in the seventies. Then we bought a Fujitsu in 1982. After this came a Cray C90 in 1992, and our current supercomputer is a Cray X1E we acquired in 2003. This X1E has 16 nodes, with 8 multi-streaming processors on each node. That gives us more than two teraflops of peak performance.

HPCwire: I understand you are holding a workshop in October. What will the workshop focus on?

Garcia-Moya: One of the limited area models we are using in our Short-Range Ensemble Prediction System (SREPS) is the HRM. HRM belongs to the German Weather Service (DWD). They develop the model together with weather agencies in Spain, Brazil, Israel, Italy, Vietnam, Oman, Slovenia, Romania, Philippines, Botswana, Tanzania and a few other countries. Scientists from these countries meet every two years in a workshop to share experiences and new developments of the model. This year, the workshop will take place in Madrid at INM headquarters, from the third to the sixth of October.

HPCwire: What are INM's future goals for numerical weather prediction and climate research?

Garcia-Moya: Our first priority in NWP is mesoscale models. HIRLAM is developing the next generation of its NWP model, together with Meteo France and the ALADIN Consortium. It will be a non-hydrostatic model with 4DVAR data assimilation. At the same time, a Short-Range Ensemble Prediction System (SREPS) based on the multi-model technique is being developed and will be operational in the next future. For climate research, our priority in the future will continue to be downscaling climate scenarios from global models.

HPCwire: Is there anything else you want to add that we didn't cover yet?

Garcia-Moya: Only that INM has a long history and, like our counterparts in other countries, is working hard to meet the requirements of a twenty-first century weather service. We hope that our fruitful collaboration with Cray will help us to fulfill our commitments.

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