April 04, 2013

Video Game Technology and Weather Forecasts: A Marriage Made in Heaven?

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?

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  1. It's not crazy at all. But I'm not sure running simulations on people's smartphones and/or xboxes at home is the best way to go. If the goal is communicating the visceral nature of forecasted storms, I think more success would be had by releasing such simulations as high-quality video clips to news organizations. At least in the near-term, I think you're still better off disseminating that information via TV news than anything else.

  2. You should combine this with the need for computing resources and get Microsoft (they're in the neighborhood) to allow gamers to contribute compute time with a nice visualization... kill two birds with one stone.

  3. There is some technology available for this already - my company's SilverLining SDK is used by games, simulations, and even TV weather broadcasts for realistic weather effects. Folks using it for meteorological visulaization include Weather Central and Baron Services - but it could be taken a lot farther than how they're using it today. <a href="http://www.sundog-soft.com>www.sundog-soft.com</a> if you're interested.

  4. Really interesting blog, and great post! I love the idea of combining weather updates with real time graphical representations. People could set it as their computer desktop or smartphone background, as some sort of animated wallpaper!
    I don't suppose you would consider sharing this over at Glipho? We're a new social blogging site, with an active community of creative bloggers- I know they would find your work here fascinating. You can import your old posts over to Glipho too, without affecting this existing blog at all- it's pretty easy!

    Thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing more from you!

    All the best,


  5. I don't think this would have a significant effect. TV stations already take hyperbole to extreme levels, and even a tropical disturbance 500 miles offshore has them replaying the most apocalyptic clips they can dredge up. People scramble for bread and milk when 2 inches of snow are forecast for goodness' sake. The people who ignore imminent tornado warnings are going to ignore whatever you throw at them. It's not a matter of understanding that a tornado is coming and its dangerous, it's about taking it seriously.

  6. How about taking it one step further, and having the game companies allow EAS inserts into the game feed? One more channel for notification.


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