The Weather Channel Is Using Unreal Engine to Show How Dangerous Hurricane Florence Is

The technology that powers blockbuster video games is visualizing the destruction caused by powerful storms.

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Sep 14 2018, 4:30pm

Screengrab: YouTube

Hurricane Florence is coming for me. I live in the middle of South Carolina and, as I type this, the sky is darkening and the wind is picking up.

There’s an electricity in the air—that weird drop in barometric pressure is a sure sign a storm is coming. I live in a flood-prone area that might see high waters, but nothing like what’s battering the coast, where the storm surge might put up to nine feet of water in the street.

Nine feet. It’s hard to get your head around, but now I know what that looks like—and how dangerous it is—thanks to video games and The Weather Channel.

On September 13, The Weather Channel aired a segment that demonstrated both the power of Hurricane Florence and the Unreal Engine—the software that powers video games like Fortnite, Octopath Traveler, and Dragon Ball FighterZ. In the segment, a meteorologist described the power of the coming storm, the camera pulled back, and what looked like real flood waters filled the screen, surging above the anchor’s head and tossing cars around like toys.

It looked amazing, and almost real. Which scared the shit out of me.

In the lead up to the pending disaster, I’ve constantly refreshed the internet (while I still have it) to gather news and keep in touch. I’ve watched that video of the battered American flag off the coast, listened to South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster drone on about evacuations, and tracked the storm in real time. But nothing has been instructive as The Weather Channel’s surreal recreation of flooding powered by Unreal Engine.

The presentation was created as a partnership between The Weather Channel and The Future Group, a Norwegian company that struck a deal last year with the makers of Unreal Engine—Epic Games—to use the tech in TV broadcasts. The project is designed to bring mixed reality and augmented reality to live productions. The partnership began in April of 2018, but people took notice in June when The Weather Channel used the technology to demonstrate the destruction of a tornado ripping apart its studio.

“We wanted to move beyond the amazing things we do already … and think of ways that we can really immerse our audience and engage them in a deeper and more meaningful way. In a way that’s more personal,” Michael Potts, vice president of design at The Weather Channel told Poynter in June. “We could take the picture of you on your front porch … and visualize what a storm surge realistically might mean for you. That makes it personal.”

Just what I needed as I buy crates of bottled water, store my garbage cans, and charge my generator: realistic images of impending destruction broadcast in high definition.

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