In addition to being a Capital Weather Gang contributor, the author, Matthew Cappucci, is an intern at the Weather Channel.
Tornadoes are one of the most destructive natural phenomena in the world. Meteorologists can walk viewers through basic safety and sheltering protocol, but it has been a challenge to illustrate the power of a tornado through television, until now.
On Wednesday, the Weather Channel debuted its new, mixed reality capabilities by showing what a tornado could do if it hit the studio. The nerve-racking segment kicked off the channel’s morning show.
Veteran meteorologist and storm tracker Jim Cantore stood in front of a 20-foot video wall, gesturing at the screen as though it was a window. From tumultuous storm clouds, a funnel snaked its way to the ground — all the while sheets of rain whipped horizontally across the scene as the wind eerily howled. As the twister intensifies, Cantore points out the window, noting “this is at least an EF-2.”
Suddenly, he ducks. A utility pole flies into the studio, spattering the floor with shrapnel and narrowly missing Cantore. Live wires emit sparks as severed circuits generate an ominous hiss of electricity. The camera pivots to give viewers a glimpse of debris-laden studio, shadows and reflections cast on the floor. Moments later, a crushed automobile is hurled into the shot, as two-by-fours impale the wall inches from Cantore’s head. It’s an otherworldly scene of every homeowner’s worst nightmare — and yet miraculously, none of it is real.
“I watched hours of rehearsals and still flinched when the car dropped from the ceiling,” said Nora Zimmett, senior vice president of content and programming at the Weather Company. “To see the culmination of six months of front-line work appear on screen as an Immersive Mixed Reality experience emphasizes that the Weather Channel is the leader in groundbreaking technology.”
The Weather Channel announced its partnership with the Future Group, an augmented-reality technology company, in April. The products these companies are building together allow two worlds to merge into one broadcast. The new technology allows people to interact with digital objects that become a part of the studio environment.
Mike Chesterfield, director of weather presentation at the Weather Channel, spearheaded this months-long effort that culminated in what viewers saw Wednesday. He plans to implement the technology in 80 percent of the Weather Channel’s live programming by 2020.
“We want to transport our audience into the heart of the weather,” said Michael Potts, vice president of design for the Weather Group. With augmented reality, viewers can immerse themselves in inclement conditions from the comfort of their own living room. The meteorologists behind the ingenuity hope that they can use these tools to help keep viewers safe.