The Weather Channel uses virtual reality to reveal the terrifying danger of frozen lakes

Publish Date: 2019-03-04


In states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and New York, places where winters consistently bring several months of arctic chill, locals have perfected the art of huddling indoors.

But for fishermen living in those regions, cold weather offers a chance to engage in an annual pastime: ice fishing. On popular lakes across the Midwest, Northeast and Canada each weekend, massive sheets of ice are speckled with makeshift villages that are temporarily home to hundreds of people, heavy-duty pickup trucks and state-of-the-art fishing shelters.

To ensure their safety, fisherman say, they need a solid foot of frozen ice beneath their feet. But as the climate warms, venturing out onto the ice has taken on new precariousness, according to Mark Elliot, an on-camera meteorologist for the Weather Channel.

Elliot breaks down that risk in the channel’s latest immersive mixed reality video, a segment devoted to the dangers of recreational activities like ice fishing as the spring thaw approaches.

“Winters are warming and the ice just doesn’t last as long as it used to across many North American lakes,” Elliot says in the segment. “Climate models indicate this will continue.”

In recent weeks, videos of ice fishing expeditions gone awry have been shared widely on social media. In Wisconsin earlier this month, video emerged of a Ford pickup disappearing beneath the ice.

Don Herman, the owner of a company that removes vehicles from their icy graves, told the Reporter that the truck’s owner was from out of town and didn’t realize he’d ventured onto thin ice.

“He just drove in a bad spot, that’s all,” Herman said, noting he’s pulled 13 vehicles from the ice this year.

In his latest IMR segment, which takes viewers above and below the ice, Elliot says people should never venture onto a lake that they’re unfamiliar with. Ice thickness varies across the lakes, he says, noting that four inches is the recommended minimum thickness for ice fishing. Even when there’s a foot of frozen ice available — enough to support a pickup truck — drivers still need to be cautious, he says.

“Make sure to drive slowly and stay at least 50 feet away from other vehicles,” Elliot says. “The weight of the truck alone can create waves that shift and crack nearby ice, making it extremely dangerous.

“If you don’t need to be out driving on the lake don’t do it,” he adds, moments before a virtual truck crashes through the ice as Elliot moans.

The channel began unveiling its splashy IMR segments last year and plans to incorporate the technology into 80 percent of their programming as early as 2020, offering a potential window into the future of broadcast news.

The channel refers to the new technology as “immersive storytelling.”

IMR videos combine 360-degree, high-definition video and augmented- and virtual-reality elements that are designed using real-time data from agencies such as the National Hurricane Center, according to the channel. The result is a virtual scenario that unfolds around a studio anchor, engulfing the set with terrifying realism but allowing the anchor to walk viewers through potential weather with new found urgency.

The Weather Channel’s latest video is fairly uneventful compared to its action-packed predecessors. The channel kicked off the IMR series last year with a video depicting a hyper-realistic tornado. Other IMR clips have included a terrifying storm surge flooding the studios, a wildfireovertaking a field and a segment highlighting dangerous weather on the football field.

In September, Michael Potts, who is the Weather Channel’s vice president of design and leads the team creating the channel’s new IMR content, told The Washington Post that the channel is in the process of transforming the day-to-day operations of weather presentation.

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Source:The Washington Post

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