A view from Dave Trott: A time and place for technology
A view from Dave Trott

A time and place for technology

The Weather Channel had a basic problem, the weather itself is boring.

No-one wants to spend hours watching a map with a cut-out sun and clouds.

This was an even bigger problem in some US states during hurricane season.

People ignored the warnings because, like the weather, they were dull.

The Weather Channel decided to do something about both problems, they decided to make the weather, and the warnings, riveting.

So, on 13 September 2018, they broadcast a forecast about Hurricane Florence.

They used something called the Unreal Engine, a video-game development platform.

It looked similar to the CGI that’s used in Hollywood films, but instead of doing it after the live action is shot, this works in real time while the presenter is talking.

The segment began with Greg Postel standing in front of the map as usual.

But then the map changed and he was in a suburban street on the pavement in front of a house with a lawn, a fire hydrant, telegraph poles, and parked car in a driveway.

A trickle of water began coming down the street, getting faster and wider.

Postel said: “This storm surge could well find its way inland.  

"So let’s have a look at what that might well be like, for example: 

"We know ‘Florence’ is going to bring one to three feet of flooding across many locations, that certainly is enough to knock you off your feet.”

(The level of water rose by three feet, everywhere except the spot where he was standing.

We saw cars lifted up next to him.)

He said: “It can definitely stall cars out, and even carry cars away, and certainly flood many of the low-level structures. But we know ‘Florence’ is also going to bring water rising well above that, perhaps up to SIX feet.”

(Sure enough the water all around him rose to six feet, above his head. The cars were floating, nose down. Wreckage was floating by him.)

He said: “Now six feet of water, imagine that: that carries large objects in it, like cars for example that can act like battering rams and enhance the damage that would be done.

"And also we know that can flood the lower levels of many structures.

"We also know that ‘Florence’ can carry with it a storm-surge well above that – perhaps NINE, even 10 feet, maybe more.”

(Then the water rose to nine feet, way over his head. The street signs were submerged and we could even see fish swimming in the water.) 

He said: “That will totally cover up one-storey buildings and structures leaving them under water, and certainly pose a risk to many.”

(Now we saw the entire street of single-storey houses with just the roofs showing above the storm waters.) 

He said: “There are very few places that are safe when the water rises this high. 

"So please, follow the advice of your local officials and heed the evacuation warnings.

"And of course stay updated on all the latest forecasts.”

Instead of changing channels like usual, people were glued to their sets.

The station was inundated with calls asking them to run it again, they ran it three times that morning.

It was so successful, they’ve done the same for tornadoes and lightning: telegraph poles crashing across the studio, giant slivers of wood just missing the presenters, battered cars tossed onto the set.

It’s a great use of technology developed for games, used to liven up a dry, dull subject.

Suddenly the weather, and the warnings, aren’t boring any more.

Now they’re riveting.

And that’s when technology is used at its best.

When it’s used as a delivery system not as a start point.  

Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three