Weather Channel Uses Immersive Mixed Reality to Educate Viewers About the Dangers From Winter Ice

In their latest hyper-realistic VR weather warning, The Weather Channel helps viewers better understand the potential dangers created by ice storms.

It may be true that “everyone talks about the weather”, but The Weather Channel has decided to do something about it.

The channel has developed an ongoing series of Immersive Mixed Reality (IMR) presentations depicting weather disasters using the powerful graphic format to give viewers impactful warnings in an effort to help prevent icy weather from turning into disasters.

Take, for example, the explosive IMR video depicting the power of lightning strikes that was covered by The Broadcast Bridge in the article, The Weather Channel Harnesses the Power of Zeus.

Lightning may contain more than one billion volts of electricity.

Lightning may contain more than one billion volts of electricity.

If you watch that video, one of the key takeaways is that the danger is not just from the thunderbolt itself, but also from the energy it can induce through metal objects such as fencing and plumbing throughout and around a house.

The article, The Weather Channel Gives Us a Football Forecast in Advanced IMR, examined how IMR was used to explain how weather may affect a football game.

Bad weather rarely stops a football game, but it can really affect plays. Click to enlarge.

Bad weather rarely stops a football game, but it can really affect plays. Click to enlarge.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed, but in parts of Atlanta, the first Sunday of 2019 was cold, wet and icy. Eric Finkelstein, the NFL’s senior director of event operations, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on January 22nd that although the league is interested in leaving the stadium’s roof open, it all depends on the weather forecast.

“We haven’t made a decision whether we’re going to have it open or not,” Finkelstein said. “If the weather cooperates and all the other factors line up, we would love to have it open. But we will see. It’s something we are talking about constantly.”

In the latest IMR video from The Weather Channel, which is linked to this article's top image, meteorologist Jim Cantore begins his explanation about winter ice by depicting the viewpoint from 6,500 feet. Here he explains thunder snow patterns and then descends to street level to show how the icy weather affects ground-level objects.

“Just a tenth of an inch makes road and sidewalks extremely slippery,” Cantore tells the audience as a wooden bench disappears behind a sheet of ice. “A quarter of an inch can break branches and cause spotty power outages. And once you’re over a half inch, serious problems ensue.”

The drama quickly escalates as a gigantic icicle smashes onto the street with the impact of a falling missile and a bus loses control on the ice, skidding sideways down the street. You can see the VR video at this YouTube location.

Video clip from of a Seattle, WA, bus sliding down an ice-covered street. See YouTube link above.

Video clip from of a Seattle, WA, bus sliding down an ice-covered street. See YouTube link above.

“We hope that in the end our audiences will be better prepared when they find themselves in situations like these,” said Mike Chesterfield, director of weather presentation at The Weather Channel. “We start Jim out in the middle of a thunder blizzard, show how falling the snowflakes turn into rain, and then become ice on the ground surface. The result is a very dangerous ice storm.”

Depicting ice falling from a cell tower like incoming bombs and tree limbs crashing onto power lines is a strong incentive for viewers to stay inside during these events.

“Danger comes at you from all different angles,” Chesterfield warns us, “and sometimes the impact can last for days or even weeks.”

That’s one reason the bus video is so relevant. As the IMR tells us that up to 500 people lose their lives every winter from snow/ice-related vehicular accidents. “You might think you are the best driver in the world,” Chesterfield says, “but when ice is on the road you may not be able to control your car no matter what.”

It is also important to be prepared for the duration.

As Chesterfield puts it, “People should have their homes stocked for potentially long survival times. It can be a while before power is restored or the roads are safe to drive again.”

Because I need my computer, may I add that when the power crashes it is crucial to try to turn off, or unplug, your sensitive electronic devices. It’s the sudden surge that hits when the power comes back on that can cause the most damage.

“Yes, have surge protectors on all your valuable equipment, Chesterfield agrees. “We know that our IMR videos quickly go viral on social media, with people using them to forewarn family members when weather events are imminent. That’s why, although The Weather Channel is a subscription service, we make sure these videos are available on many social media outlets shortly after we air them.”

These IMRs are produced in conjunction with The Future Group, leveraging the power of Epic Games' Unreal Engine.

“It’s a real time rendering engine which makes productions as elaborate as our IMR’s feasible,” Chesterfield says. “Because we can make changes on the fly, we can create a hyper-realistic VR environment and alter it as we go.”

The individual 3D objects themselves are modeled using Autodesk’s 3ds Max, and some of the surrounding surface topology came from Megascans by Quixel.

For maximum realism, the snow-to-rain was drawn in the old fashioned way. Click to enlarge.

For maximum realism, the snow-to-rain was drawn in the old fashioned way. Click to enlarge.

The snowflakes melting into rain effect were created by hand in Adobe After Effects CC.

They also employ the StarTracker camera tracking system developed by Mo-Sys, an ingenious re-thinking of the virtual camera originally devised by James Cameron and his cinematographer Vince Pace for the Avatar movies. For more, check out my “StarTracker VFX from Mo-Sys” story posted last October.

“All of these technologies are fairly new, and it has been challenging to integrate them into a broadcast workflow” Chesterfield concluded. “But as we get more efficient with them, we intend to expand our ability into 360-degree HD to produce even more exciting IMR videos on even more subjects in the future.”

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