With Winter Storm Harper fast approaching, the Weather Channel has broken out the immersive-mixed-reality machine again.
Combining real-life anchors with vivid, digital simulations, the compelling clips have been pitched as an educational tool that brings extreme weather events to life.
Some of us used to ignore weather advisories. Not anymore.
Like the “Beyond Scared Straight” of weather segments, IMR clips will have you looking at a forecast the way a mischievous 13-year-old looks at a tattooed convict named “Big Dragon.” IMR clips are certainly educational, but they’re more like digital doses of humility, reminding even the most plucky among us that we are no match for Mother Nature.
The latest dose captures the unpredictable fury of an ice storm, a dangerous weather phenomenon that occurs when warm air slams into a cold winter storm, melting snowflakes that don’t have time to refreeze before they hit the ground, according to the video. When they finally do reach Earth’s surface, where cold temperatures have settled, the water accumulates as ice, which is how the trouble begins, according to on-camera meteorologist Jim Cantore.
“Just a tenth of an inch makes roads and sidewalks extremely slippery,” he says in the video. “A quarter of an inch can break branches, and once you’re over half an inch, serious problems ensue.”
Among them: Ice missiles that plummet from cell towers, reaching 90 mph before crashing with 1,000 pounds of force; and power lines snapping under the weight of ice and falling trees.
“Ice can increase the weight of the branches by 30 times,” Cantore notes before narrowly escaping an out-of-control city bus careening toward him.
The Weather Channel debuted its IMR technology in June with a video depicting a hyper-realistic tornado. The channel’s other IMR clips have included a terrifying storm surge flooding the studios, a wildfire overtaking a field and a segment highlighting dangerous weather on the football field.
IMR videos combine 360-degree, high-definition video and augmented- and virtual-reality elements that are designed using real-time data from agencies such as the National Hurricane Center, according to the channel. The result is a virtual scenario that unfolds around a studio anchor, engulfing the set with terrifying realism but allowing the anchor to walk viewers through potential weather with newfound urgency.
In September, Michael Potts, who is the Weather Channel’s vice president of design and leads the team creating the channel’s new IMR content, told The Washington Post that the channel is in the process of transforming the day-to-day operations of weather presentation. He added that the channel’s content creators aim to include IMR technology in 80 percent of its programming by 2020.