Skip to Main Content

Looking to the cloud, in more ways than one

Rain check: how the world’s oldest meteorological station is digitizing the weather

Few things transcend language, culture and geographical barriers. The weather is one of them.

Torrential downpours. Heatwaves. White-out snowstorms. Nature’s relentless shifts affect everyone from large corporations and small businesses, to the running of cities and the daily lives of individuals.

From the logistics of an international shipping company to local transport networks, man’s constant study of the weather helps ensure that society can function as normal.

We have evolved from simply being at the mercy of the weather, to tracking it, understanding it, and predicting its future. Now, thanks to technology, our ability to understand the elements has never been better.

An eye on the sky
(The Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics) in Austria, is the world’s oldest meteorological centre. Founded in 1851, it operates 270 stations across the country – some of which are as remote as 3500m above sea level in the Austrian Alps.

The centre collects and analyses data for customers and stakeholders around the globe, from minute-to-minute predictions, to 10-day forecasts, helping its customers form data-based strategies while improving efficiency.

ZAMG’s environmental department, for example, is involved with several research projects in the field of renewable energies, including flow simulations to assess various sites for their effectiveness as locations for wind turbines. Artificial intelligence (AI) and neural networks are being used to help predict favourable wind speed and solar energy conditions.

The centre is also responsible for advice and warnings in the event of environmental and natural disasters. One example of this was the Chernobyl disaster. When reactor four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near the Ukrainian city of Prypyat exploded in April 1986, ZAMG meticulously monitored the effects of the catastrophic event on Austria. Due to the strong winds from the east, the radioactive cloud reached the Austrian mainland after three days.

After the disaster, a dense, semi-automatic weather monitoring network was set up in Austria and the regularly tested disaster control alarm plans, for which ZAMG operates a crisis model system, were continuously developed further. In the event of accidents in nuclear power plants, this enables large-scale meteorological and chemical forecast models with the most detailed information possible for state crisis and disaster management.

Following the accident in Fukushima in 2011, ZAMG also calculated the first large-scale spread of the radioactivity cloud and carried out the first realistic estimate of the radioactive source strength in combination with data from the International Atomic Test Stop Authority in Vienna.

Crunching numbers
ZAMG’s countless predictions and analyses are incredibly important, but they come at a cost. Huge amounts of data – 100,000 data sets per minute – must be properly uploaded, stored, shared and analysed, for the centre’s important work to continue to be effective.

Günther Tschabuschnig, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at ZAMG, is in charge of the high-precision technologies which make weather forecast models and comprehensive statistical correlations possible:

“Every single weather station constantly and meticulously monitors weather conditions and transmits all developments to our headquarters in Vienna every second,” Tschabuschnig explains. “This creates enormous data sets that need to be processed, analysed and finally archived. Even with our traditional organization, technological progress does not stop.”

The various Austrian weather stations feed these 100,000 data records into ZAMG’s headquarters each minute, where they must be archived and processed sustainably. To accomplish this incredible feat, the data is migrated to the Microsoft Cloud, where it is archived and available for all ZAMG sites. By subsequently analysing the enormous amounts of data, available globally, in an instant, valuable forecasts for long-term or short-term weather trends can be made.

“The cloud was the logical step for us,” Tschabuschnig continues. “The enormous amounts of data that accumulate every minute and form the basis for statistical weather forecast models and relationships are processed and results are stored to the Microsoft Azure Cloud. This has the great advantage that all data is collected centrally in one place and every location can access it directly.”

“Digital transformation is changing all of our lives and we strive to make the best possible use of technology. Big data analytics, modulation or simulation accompany us every day, and thanks to the cloud, we can now better understand and process these topics.”

This story originally appeared on Microsoft News Centre Austria.