In immersive mixed-reality technology, green-screen graphics fused with data from weather agencies.
By the time the storm surge reaches the height of a regulating basketball basket, it no longer resembles ordinary water.
The brackish fluid is more like a menacing, insurmountable wall, one that has enough power to lift 3,000-pound cars, flatten neighborhoods, and leave a landscape of devastation behind.
But meteorologist Erika Navarro – her 5-foot-2-inch frame surmounted by the liquid barrier behind her – remains incredibly quiet. Her secret: the water is virtual and Navarro seems to be on the verge of being swallowed whole.
"Once we reach this nine-foot reach, this is an absolutely life-threatening scenario," warns the weather channel meteorologist. "If you find yourself here, please go out!"
Welcome to the future of meteorological broadcasting.
Known as "immersive mixed-reality technology," videos such as Navarro record green-screen graphics and merge them with real-time data from agencies such as the National Hurricane Center. The result is a virtual scenario that unfolds around a studio anchor, devouring the set with frightening realism but allowing the anchor to escort viewers through potential weather with new urgency.
This week – with warnings of storm surges along the North Carolina coastline – the weather channel used the tool to show viewers how this rise could affect a typical neighborhood in a "reasonable worst-case scenario".
Michael Potts, Weather Channel's Vice President of Design, who leads the team to create the channel's new IMR content, said he believes mixed-reality is the future of the weather presentation. The goal is to engage and entertain viewers, he said, but the underlying message is unmistakably sober.
"This is life-saving information that we want to convey, and we wanted to do it in a way that elicits a very powerful response from the viewers," Potts said, noting that about half of all deaths in the US were caused by tropical diseases Hurricanes the result of the storm surge. "We wanted to paint people a real picture and show that this could be your neighborhood all over America."
Potts said people use the channel's surge videos as "a cautionary tool," which has led to one of the highest social media engagements they've ever seen.
On YouTube, commentators who saw the viral stormwave video said the power to illustrate the fury of a hurricane was undeniable.
"I would run to the hills if I saw that, and I would be on the way to this kind of flooding and destruction," a viewer wrote.
"Wow, that should play on every news page," wrote another. "Incredible computer imaging If I tried to decide if I should evacuate or not … that would definitely mean that I should go !!!"
The Weather Channel presented its IMR technology in June with a video that is a hyperrealistic tornado. With sirens blaring in the background, an impromptu science lesson by weather forecaster Jim Cantore turns into a death-defying drama as the storm engulfs cars and power lines before eventually destroying the Weather Channel studio while Cantore seeks shelter.
"I watched hours of rehearsals and still shrank when the car fell from the ceiling," said Nora Zimmett, the company's senior vice president of content and programming, to the Washington Post in June. "The culmination of six months of front-work appears on-screen as an immersive mixed reality experience underscores that the Weather Channel is a leader in breakthrough technology."
The weather channel followed with a segment exploring the dangers of lightning that debuted last month. The virtual graphics created using the same set of tools used by video game developers will be created in a new studio at Atlanta's headquarters.
Potts said the channel is transforming its daily operations of weather imaging. The content creators of the channel want to include IMR technology in 80 percent of their programs by 2020.
As far as the TV program is concerned, the weather remains a fairly constant sequence of recurring episodes, he said. But that does not mean that those who cover it must also be predictable.
"Pretty soon, this technology will be part of your standard forecast," said Potts. "From our studio in downtown Atlanta, we can take you all over the world."
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and will be published from a syndicated feed.)