Microsoft Flight Simulator players have turned into virtual stormchasers this week, hunting down Hurricane Laura as it approached the US Gulf Coast. While Texas and Louisiana brace for what is being described as an “unsurvivable storm surge,” the real-time weather inside Microsoft Flight Simulator is providing a surreal spectacle for players.
Virtual strormchasers have gathered in the skies above the Gulf of Mexico to fly directly into Hurricane Laura. The results demonstrate the incredible realism in Microsoft Flight Simulator, just as Hurricane Laura threatens catastrophic damage in the real world. Players have been flying directly through the eye of the storm, around the outer edges, and even so far up that planes have frozen over and needed to be de-iced.
The virtual views have allowed players to track Hurricane Laura during the moments before it made landfall as a category 4 hurricane with 150mph winds. A YouTube user also captured the virtual experience of flying through Hurricane Laura, showing just how well the storm cloud formations are depicted in the game.
Flight Simulator uses real-time weather data to map out conditions around the world to make this possible. Microsoft partnered with Swiss company Meteoblue to map the world’s weather patterns. Meteoblue splits the world into 250 million boxes, which each measure wind speed, temperature, pressure, and a lot more. While the weather data was originally only going to be limited to airports for virtual pilots, Flight Simulator is now replicating real world weather events with incredible accuracy.
“Yesterday’s hurricane was very beautiful to look at and was accurately predicted by our models even days ahead,” explains Mathias Müller, Meteoblue co-founder, in an email to The Verge. “We are very happy that real-time weather is now part of Flight Simulator. It was a long journey as integrating these massive amounts of data required the solution of many problems. From our end, we would like to have even more details and weather parameters we already compute for our customers and the meteoblue.com website inside the game, but the development on the game side is extremely complex and takes time.”
Microsoft Flight Simulator has been wowing players since its release on PC earlier this month. The game uses Bing Maps data to map out the world, combined with Azure-powered procedural generation technology to bring things like buildings and trees to life. Most major landmarks are well represented (in the US at least). You can also get up close to elephants and giraffes in a safari flight over Ethiopia if hurricane chasing isn’t your thing.
Update, August 27th 8AM ET: Articled updated with comment from Meteoblue.