Skip to main content
Move the World.
New Flight Simulator

Lead Image Courtesy of Xbox

From baseball-sized hailstones to tornadoes traveling at 70 mph, Earth's extreme weather is, well, pretty damn extreme.

Most people make it a point to steer clear of these potentially deadly phenomena, but some seek them out, putting themselves in harm's way for a shot of adrenaline (and sometimes for the money, not the science).

Now, there's another option.

On August 18, Microsoft released a new flight simulator that replicates real-world weather conditions — and less than a week later, virtual storm chasers have been using it to fly directly into Hurricane Laura.

Microsoft's New Flight Simulator

Flight simulators are an essential part of pilot training, providing trainees with a risk-free way to learn how to operate an aircraft.

Microsoft's new flight simulator is designed for entertainment, not education, though.

Users choose from a variety of plane options, and then pick their departure and arrival airports. After that, they can fly any route they want between the two — and thanks to (mostly accurate) data pulled from Bing Maps, the virtual Earth is highly realistic.

As with previous versions, players can choose the weather conditions for their flight — day or night, clear skies or storms.

But the new flight simulator also gives them the option of flying through real-time, real-world weather conditions. If they're flying above Paris, for example, the simulator will recreate the actual weather above Paris at that moment.

This feature was made possible through a partnership with a Swiss weather forecasting company, meteoblue.

To help Microsoft recreate the world's weather, the company split the planet into 250 million "boxes," each with 60 layers. It collects real-time data on the wind speed, precipitation, and other conditions within each of these boxes at the different altitudes.

Microsoft then uses that data to recreate the weather in the "virtual" box.

A New Breed of Storm Chasers

While Microsoft's new flight simulator can't provide the danger that drives storm chasers toward hurricanes rather than away from them, it can deliver the breathtaking visuals, and that's apparently enough for many people.

Within days of the simulator's release, early adopters were taking advantage of the real-world weather feature to explore Hurricane Laura — flying above, below, and directly through the storm, without leaving the safety of their computer desks.

Hurricane Laura made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, but it was downgraded to a tropical storm in the afternoon on August 27.

The storm has left more than 840,000 people without power and has been linked to at least four deaths. It's now headed north and is likely to cause both flash flooding and tornadoes in the coming days.

If you'd like to help those affected, Charity Navigator has a list of nonprofits providing relief to victims.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

Inside the Cajun Navy: How Volunteers Are Training to Rescue Hurricane Victims
Inside the Cajun Navy: How Volunteers Are Training to Rescue Hurricane Victims
Watch Now
Inside the Cajun Navy: How Volunteers Are Training to Rescue Hurricane Victims
Can civilian-led rescue be part of future disaster recovery efforts?
Watch Now

A Look Inside the Cajun Navy Before Hurricane Katrina hit, the "Cajun Navy" didn't even exist. But in the aftermath of the storm, a group of volunteers that helped rescue thousands flood victims stranded in their homes and vehicles have come together again. Their goal? To work together to better assist people in times of need directly following a natural disaster. They call themselves the Cajun Navy, and their work...

Dispatches
What's the Deal with the Giant Mosquitoes after Hurricanes?
What's the Deal with the Giant Mosquitoes after Hurricanes?
Dispatches
What's the Deal with the Giant Mosquitoes after Hurricanes?
These suckers grow to be three times larger than other mosquitoes, but they may not be as bad as you think.
By Michael Reiskind

These suckers grow to be three times larger than other mosquitoes, but they may not be as bad as you think.

Aerospace
What a Simulated Mars Mission Can Teach You About Life
simulated mars mission
Aerospace
What a Simulated Mars Mission Can Teach You About Life
After a simulated Mars mission, researchers come home with lessons we can all live by.

After a simulated Mars mission, researchers come home with lessons we can all live by.

Outer Space
MIT Unveils Simulation to Help Stop an Asteroid Impact
Asteroid Impact
Outer Space
MIT Unveils Simulation to Help Stop an Asteroid Impact
MIT has developed a simulation to determine the most appropriate way to stop an asteroid impact if one of the space rocks is headed toward the Earth.

MIT has developed a simulation to determine the most appropriate way to stop an asteroid impact if one of the space rocks is headed toward the Earth.

Science
Why Don't We Believe Extreme Weather Forecasts?
Why Don't We Believe Extreme Weather Forecasts?
Science
Why Don't We Believe Extreme Weather Forecasts?
Research shows people don't take extreme weather predictions seriously. And don't take the necessary precautions as...
By Mike Riggs

Research shows people don't take extreme weather predictions seriously. And don't take the necessary precautions as a result.

Extreme Weather
New Study Into How Tornadoes Form Could Save Lives
how tornadoes form
Extreme Weather
New Study Into How Tornadoes Form Could Save Lives
To improve our understanding of how tornadoes form, researchers involved in the TORUS Project will send tech straight into supercell thunderstorms.

To improve our understanding of how tornadoes form, researchers involved in the TORUS Project will send tech straight into supercell thunderstorms.

Genetics
Can RNA Editing Catch Up To CRISPR?
rna editing
Genetics
Can RNA Editing Catch Up To CRISPR?
Developed in the 1980s, RNA editing was overshadowed by CRISPR. But the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in the gene editing technique.

Developed in the 1980s, RNA editing was overshadowed by CRISPR. But the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in the gene editing technique.

Outer Space
The Dwarf Planet Ceres May Hide A Subterranean Sea
dwarf planet ceres
Outer Space
The Dwarf Planet Ceres May Hide A Subterranean Sea
The largest body in the asteroid belt, the dwarf planet Ceres may hide a salty subterranean sea.

The largest body in the asteroid belt, the dwarf planet Ceres may hide a salty subterranean sea.