On May 22, 2011 a powerful EF 5 tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, killing at least 158 people and injuring at least 1,100. The forecasts were quite good, with severe storm watches out for hours and a tornado warming at least 10-20 minutes before it hit. Some folks died or were injured because they did not take the warnings seriously. During Superstorm Sandy a number of citizens were killed or injured near the coast because they did not understand the seriousness of the the threat.
This issue of communication is so serious that the National Weather Service announced this week that it is expanding the amount of information it provides when severe weather events threaten (story here).
But I have an idea. We have the technology to provide graphic simulations of forecast weather and many of you have the technology in your homes right now....video game systems. The idea first occurred to me when I was watching my kids play with a game on their Xbox system. It was one of these (excessively) violent war games and I noticed that it had all kinds of weather effects built in...clouds, winds, sandstorms, precipitation...and some of the renderings were quite realistic.
So why not put together the output of our numerical weather forecast models--or National Weather Service forecasts--with video game technology to inform people what the future weather will look AND sound like?
You could see the rain, watch trees sway, hear the wind, and view damage to buildings or homes during forecast severe events. Of course, you would not necessarily have to purchase a video game console....your computer or even your smartphone could provide the graphics.
Think this is a dream? Turns out that some folks are going pretty far in this direction. For example, Microsoft Flight Simulator has an option to download current weather information, so your simulated flight will go through actual weather occurring right now. A sample of such graphics is shown below (click on the image to see a video of this capability).
EA Sport's Football game allows one to download real-time weather information from the Weather Channel and to see that weather during the simulated game (information here). Better than that, the weather conditions alter the game play.
There is even academic articles on simulating weather in video games (link here).
Human beings are magnificently equipped to view a graphic or visualization and to get huge amount of actionable information. Why not take advantage of this capability by marrying video simulation technology with increasingly accurate weather forecasts? Imagine being able to see and hear what the forecast weather will bring in a highly realistic presentation. As we move towards probabilistic weather prediction, perhaps several graphical simulations could be available, with various probabilities assigned to each. I suspect the Weather Channel would add a simulated Jim Cantore, being pummeled and blown around in such presentations.
The capability to do so clearly exists and the benefits could be huge. A number of companies (Microsoft, EA, Nintendo, Sony) have the ability to quickly make this happen. Is this a crazy idea? Is anyone ready to test it?
KPLU Fund Drive and My Weather Wisdom DVD
If you are interested in getting my Weather Wisdom DVD (a comprehensive description of Northwest Weather) and helping support our local public radio station (KPLU) you can do so by giving a donation (at the $15 a month level) to KPLU. To do so, just go here. Or call them at: 1-800-NPR-KPLU