Cliff Mass: How video game graphics could help save lives

Apr 5, 2013

What does a weather guy know about video games?

Cliff Mass has watched his kids play them plenty, and they gave him an idea that could help save lives.

“Some of these games have superb graphics. They have weather in them, even—storms and windstorms, and rain, and damage from storms,” says Mass, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.

Those sophisticated graphics gave him a thought: What if we used them to simulate exactly what the forecast is predicting?

“So people could watch visually, and they could hear what the upcoming weather would be like. You could see the rain. You could see the wind. You could even seen the potential damage to buildings,” he says.

Tool could encourage better preparation

Mass thinks a realistic simulation would encourage people to protect themselves.

“There have been a number of situations where the forecast has been excellent, but the people didn’t react properly,” says Mass.

Take the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri, for instance. There were good warnings, he says, but not everyone protected themselves.

“The same thing is true of Hurricane Sandy where the forecast was extraordinarily good, but some people stayed on the coast and got injured and died,” says Mass.

Seeing is believing

So why would a simulation make a difference? Mass says seeing is believing for us humans.

“People have wonderful graphical software and hardware built into our brains. We can see things and understand our meaning,” he says. “Why don’t we do the same thing with weather? Let people see and hear what the forecast implies in a very realistic way.”

So far, no one is turning Mass’ idea into reality.

“I need a video game company, or Microsoft to help as well,” he says. 

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Do you have a weather question? Cliff Mass and Keith Seinfeld occasionally answer reader questions on the air. Share yours here.

The weekly KPLU feature "Weather with Cliff Mass" airs every Friday at 9 a.m. immediately following BirdNote, and repeats twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KPLU’s Science and Health reporter Keith Seinfeld. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, and a popular weather blogger. You can alsosubscribe to a podcast of “Weather with Cliff Mass” shows.