The Weather Channel is at it again: after terrifying viewers with a graphic that drove home the dangers of flooding during Hurricane Florence, the network has aired a new clip that highlights how climate change is making natural disasters even more devastating.
This one demonstrates the astounding speed of a wind-whipped inferno burning its way up a mountainside. In the video, meteorologist Stephanie Abrams starts out in an idyllic forest. But she points out that the key ingredients for a raging fire are in the scene, too: dry brush, hot air, and strong winds. Just a spark — which comes from people more than 80 percent of the time — “could ignite a firestorm,” Abrams says. “Fires like this one can consume up to a football field every second,” she says, like the Thomas fire that burned across Southern California last December.
The video uses the same Immersive Mixed-Reality technology we saw in the storm surge graphic The Weather Channel launched during Hurricane Florence, where rising floodwaters rose around the meteorologist on-screen. In partnership with The Future Group, an augmented reality company, The Weather Channel uses the Unreal Engine, a video game development platform, to build these graphics in real time, Ren LaForme reported for Poynter. In a preview posted on Facebook, Abrams reveals the green screen backdrop for the fire scene:
These videos go viral because they’re existentially frightening in a way that news footage often isn’t. Instead of looking in from the outside, the meteorologist takes us inside the danger. It’s easy to passively engage with the idea of climate change or natural disasters that happen to other people, but this immersive tech is meant to shake people on the internet. It forces us to imagine what it would be like if we were caught in the flood or if flames erupted around us.
The video arrives just in time for the Santa Ana winds to blow in the most dangerous time of year for Southern California fires, the LA Times reports. The Santa Ana winds are hot, dry winds that typically start blowing across Southern California in the fall and worsen through the winter when the rainy season should start. Fire conditions are especially dangerous this year, with record high temperatures and a distinct lack of rain. And until that rain comes, the winds prime the region for a massive blaze, climatologist William Patzert told the LA Times. “It’s a race to see which one arrives first.”
The danger isn’t limited to Southern California, either: after all, it was this time last year when the October 2017 fire siege raged through Northern California, killing 44 people and burning almost a quarter-million acres. In The Weather Channel’s graphic, Abrams explains how climate change is increasing the frequency and size of extreme fire disasters. With mixed reality showing a neighborhood glowing in the light of the approaching flames, Abrams says to the camera: “Scenes like this could become a frightening new reality.”