Players use Microsoft Flight Simulator to fly through Hurricane Ida in real time

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Going on the preliminary reports, NASA estimates that Hurricane Ida was the fifth-strongest storm ever to hit the continental United States. It made landfall on August 29 as a category 4 hurricane and subsequently travelled across 1500 miles, impacting 22 states and leaving destruction in its wake. The size was such it was easily visible from space.

A feature of Microsoft Flight Simulator is live weather modelling: the in-game world can reflect what’s going on in the real world. When a player enables Real-World Weather the game gathers weather data from the meteorological service Meteoblue and, using Microsoft’s Azure AI platform, simulates what is going on in the world. Needless to say, Hurricane Ida is a weather event on an enormous scale. And so Microsoft Flight Simulator pilots decided to fly through it.

The top video shows a player observing the build-up of Hurricane Ida over the Gulf of Mexico. This is the period before the storm makes landfall, where it builds strength in a process called rapid intensification.

The above gives more of an idea of what would happen to a plane near these weather conditions, with the pilot clearly having difficulty controlling the vehicle.

The above is the most zoomed-out view among the various videos on the topic.

While this is an interesting facet of Microsoft Flight Simulator’s modelling, the real Hurricane Ida caused extreme damage and misery and it’s worth emphasising that this is a theoretical approximation of what the weather event was like. It is not a perfect simulation but a rough sketch an AI is producing in real-time from the meteorological data it’s being fed: the complexity of a storm on this scale is such that it’s… well, it’s just too big, with too many moving parts.

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Back in the real world, the aftermath of Hurricane Ida continues to be dealt with, with many forced from their homes and the exact death toll still unknown. President Biden for his part warned that the weather event’s extreme force is inextricable from climate change: “People are beginning to realize this is much, much bigger than anyone was willing to believe. Even the climate skeptics are seeing that this really does matter.”


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