Hurricane Laura made landfall over Louisiana last night, causing hundreds of thousands to lose power and severe damage to infrastructure like chemical plants even as the storm weakened over time. But from the safety of the virtual clouds, Microsoft Flight Simulator players spent the last day exploring the storm from a different angle.
Flight Simulator is an impressive attempt to digitally recreate large swaths of the world, from individual city streets to famous landmarks. Microsoft also worked with the meteorological service Meteoblue to try and simulate the earth’s weather patterns in real time, which is why players who made their way down into the Gulf of Mexico earlier this week were able to catch a glimpse of Hurricane Laura up close.
Writer Sharockonefive documented their own trip into the eye of the storm over on the flight sim blog Stormbirds. They set out from Manuel Crescencio airport in Mexico and began heading northeast, eventually spotting the outer bands of Laura as they flew over what remains of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza. More than anything else, the simulation gives an awe-inspiring sense of the scale of the storm, with a wall of clouds arching over the horizon like a giant ocean wave perpetually cresting forward.
Players have had varying degrees of success, with the amount of detail in the hurricane dependent on the power of people’s PCs, and the complex weather system still prone to crashes. When everything lines up though it’s incredible to watch.
“Yesterday’s hurricane was very beautiful to look at and was accurately predicted by our models even days ahead,” Meteoblue co-founder Mathias Müller, told 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.”
Flight Simulator’s shared world can still be a lonely experience given the amount of space between players, but its recreation of major weather events has added another focal point for people to congregate around. The game seems like the furthest thing from Fortnite-style social hangout, but that’s exactly what Laura briefly turned the game into.
Writes one of the storm chasers on Twitter. “I feel like MS Flight Sim is going to create a new genre of gaming events where people track down IRL weather events in-game to experience them.” But those in-game experiences are attached to real-world devastation, and Laura could just be the start of another bad hurricane season.