The Weather Channel turns to video game tech to show the dangers of Hurricane Florence

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Sep 14, 2018, 4:27 PM EDT

The tools developers are using to bring almost cinematic levels of realism to blockbuster titles like Fortnite, Kingdom Hearts III, and Shenmue III are more powerful today than they’ve ever been — so powerful, in fact, it’s almost a shame they can’t be expanded beyond the world of video games. 

Except, it turns out, they can. When The Weather Channel wanted to drive home the dangers of rising storm surge levels from Hurricane Florence, it turned to Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 to create a wall-of-water visual that could deliver maximum impact for viewers.

WIRED reports The Weather Channel brought in Epic’s Unreal Engine gaming tech just as its new green-screen studio expansion came online ahead of the brewing storm, in one fell swoop boosting the realism of the channel’s previous efforts to visualize weather reporters beset by fake tornadoes, floods, and diluvian rain.

“About 18 months ago, [TWC design VP Michael] Potts says, the broadcast industry at large started getting serious about the quality of graphics it could offer, thanks in part to the rising popularity of esports,” the report states. “Seeing potential for weather coverage, TWC invested in the use of Unreal Engine, the same suite of tools that powers countless video games. (Yes, including Fortnite.)”

Fortnite’s just the tip of the massive gaming iceberg bearing the hundreds of titles that’ve used some version of Unreal Engine over the years. In addition to upcoming games like KHIII, Shenmue III, and the Final Fantasy VII remake, the current incarnation of Epic’s game engine has also been used to power a ton of games you may already have played, regardless of console: it’s the driving force behind Octopath Traveler on the Nintendo Switch, Gears of War 4 on Xbox One, Days Gone on PlayStation 4, and dozens more. 

Earlier versions of Unreal Engine helped set graphical standards for the previous console generation of games, powering genre-defining titles like Bioshock, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dishonored, Mass Effect, and Life is Strange. Unreal is also a favorite of tech-savvy gaming fans, who routinely use it to put out killer tributes to their favorite franchises (like this awesome recreation of the Tallon Canyon zone from Nintendo's Metroid Prime).

Potts told WIRED the enhanced graphics mark a new approach to getting people more invested in the information they consume. “We’ve talked about transforming the way that we present weather, evolving it into something that’s a visceral kind of experience, where you just want to watch the presentation because it’s amazing, because it’s beautiful,” he explained. 

With the response The Weather Channel’s already gotten from its first foray into the world of gaming tech, it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing much more of Unreal Engine 4’s power as a creation tool to help put us safely at the center of the storm.