It's one of the most powerful computers in the world, capable of 450 billion calculations per second.
At 6,000 square feet, it's so big, it dominates a room the size of basketball court. It's so high-performance, it helps forecast weather for the entire United States, from snow to tropical storms.
But can the $224 million IBM supercomputer, unveiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Maryland on Friday, tell you with any certainty whether it will rain on your house today?
"I wish I could say absolutely yes, we can do that," said meteorologist Jim Lushine of the National Weather Service in Miami. "But the atmosphere is too chaotic, so there's no 100 percent, sure way to tell."
Surely, then, this climate computer can say exactly where the next hurricane will hit, right?
"I don't think so," said hurricane specialist Lixion Avila of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "Every year we've been improving the track forecast. But we haven't solved all the problems yet."
Well, then, what can this electronic beast do?
Mostly, it helps local forecasters make more accurate predictions by providing a big-picture look at the atmosphere. Each day, the computer is fed more than 2 million atmospheric observations, from the ground, air, sea and space.
It then runs complex weather models, calculating conditions for the United States and its territories, and electronically dispatches predictions to hundreds of weather stations. Local meteorologists then mix that information with their own observations.
One of the computer's most important functions will be to help forecasters post watches and warnings for severe weather, such as tornadoes, thunderstorms, flooding and winter storms.
But, Lushine notes, the supercomputer's guidance mostly is used for longer-term forecasts, from one to seven days out. For forecasts covering six to 12 hours, forecasters rely more on their local radar and satellite information, as well as surface observations.
"As good as that supercomputer is, you still need human input," he said. "We need to apply our own local knowledge to it."
Similarly, the National Hurricane Center in Miami will use the computer's information to help fortify its four- and five-day forecasts, which will be available to the public for the first time this season.
"The faster the computers, the more times per day we can run the models," Avila said, "the more realistic it makes the models."
By 2010, with the help of the supercomputer, weather officials hope to extend hurricane forecasts to seven days and have the same accuracy as today's five-day forecast, said NOAA spokesman Kevin Cooley.
Ken Kaye writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.