Mangkhut may have been the strongest typhoon in Hong Kong in recent memory, but locals had to rely on pretty much the same resources as in the past for their weather information. Sure, there are a few new apps here and there, and the Observatory has done a fine job keeping people abreast of the news, but we haven’t particularly moved on much.
Freddie has been strolling up and down on TVB in his animated world for decades and reporters continue to brave high winds in bright yellow helmets with random storm chasers photo-bombing their stand-ups, making them look suitably foolish.
While Mangkhut raged in Hong Kong, Hurricane Florence was doing its damage on the east coast in the United States. Spending a day at home, I was scrolling the news and came across a new type of weather report: one that uses mixed immersive reality.
In the US, the Weather Channel was blowing people’s minds with three-dimensional, full room animated depictions of Hurricane Florence. The weather anchor at whichever time the report was on would begin by describing different areas and then specifically pointing out somewhere that would be experiencing storm surges. Next, an animation behind the anchor depicted the urban landscape and showed how high the water would come up to.
The concept has been in use by the Weather Channel this year for land-based tornados as well, and the technique is highly effective in bringing weather to life. It is the result of a partnership between the channel and The Future Group, an augmented reality content and technology provider, powered by Unreal Engine, a suite of integrated tools for game developers to design and build games, simulations, and visualizations used for the likes of Fortnite.
“Our immersive mixed reality (IMR) presentations will combine 360 HD video and augmented and virtual reality elements that are driven by real-time data and our expert on-air talent to transport our audience into the heart of the weather,” said Michael Potts, Vice President, Design for The Weather Group, when the solution was launched in April 2018.
Aside from being highly eye-catching, the animation has a strong safety ethos behind it as well. “The National Hurricane Center puts out a live feed of their inundation data, telling at specific points where they identify how high the water level will be. We ingest that data, and that allows us to paint pictures, if you will,” Potts told Wired.
“Prior to that, we imagined what the different environments could be. You see the typical American street corner; we have others that we’re working on. We rapidly operationalized this one so that we could get this out and make sure we had the right safety messages out for this storm,” Potts added.
For residents in hard-hit areas who insist on staying through deadly storms, visualizations executed so vividly could convince them to leave, helping rescue services out in the process.
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