Hofstra University Uses VR To Put You Face To Face With A Category 3 Hurricane

Step just outside the eye of the storm and feel the full force of a category 3 monster. 

Hurricanes – massive geophysical events that can unleash massive destruction with wind speeds over 160 miles per hour and up to 2.4 trillion gallons of rainfall per day. These storms can generate so much energy that when they make landfall, they can produce a storm surge capable of reaching up to 20 feet and extending nearly 100 miles. Of course it goes without saying that this can often result in billions in damage and even death for those unfortunate enough to find themselves in such a predicament.

If for whatever reason you do one day find yourself face to face with such an epic force of nature, having an understanding of what to expect is one of the best things you can do to increase your chances of survival. That is what a research project at Hofstra University aims to do with their Category 3 Hurricane Landfall Virtual Reality Simulation.

360° rendition of the VR experience.

The VR project, conducted by six Hofstra University students under the direction of Dr Jase Bernhardt, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Geology, Environment, and Sustainability at Hofstra University, looks to improve storm warnings and and preparation by putting you right in the middle of a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 111 to 129 mph.

“I tested out VR for the first time when I first became a faculty member at Hofstra and was impressed with the realism,” said Dr Jase Bernhardt while speaking with VRScout. “I immediately thought that it would be an excellent tool for communicating the effects of extreme weather events in an engaging way, going beyond simple text, or 2D maps and graphics.”

The VR simulation begins with you looking out of a window from your living room as an incoming storm begins to creep closer and closer. You can hear emergency sirens blaring in the background along with intense wind and rain pounding outside your home as a dangerous assortment of debris violently whips past you and water quickly begins to rise beneath you.

The Category 3 Hurricane Landfall Virtual Reality Simulation is designed to trigger a real emotional response by leveraging fear and empathy to give you a better understanding of a genuine hurricane experience and help you with your decision-making process in terms of evacuation or, in a worst-case scenario, other preparedness action. According to a poll in 2015, 47% of New Jersey residents claim they would evacuate their area upon learning of an incoming storm, with 6% saying they would stay, and the remaining 48% unsure of their actions. What is more shocking is only 28% of the people polled are confident they are fully prepared for a hurricane, leaving a whopping 72% moderately prepared, or not prepared at all.

To bring the hurricane VR experience to life, the team turned to Jackson Snellings and Alex Smiros of EdTech at Hofstra to create the simulation using Unity 3D, with Bernhardt providing scientific guidance for an accurate representation of a category 3 hurricane landfall. Up next for the Hofstra team will be the expanse of VR experiences to other types of severe weather situations, such as tornadoes, and applying their findings into real-world scenarios.

“We want to show people different hurricane categories and then evaluate their understanding of risk,” continued Bernhardt.

The results of Dr Bernhardt and his teams pilot study (submitted for publication) indicate that VR has strong potential to alter people’s perceptions of risk and improve hurricane warning communication. Bernhardt and his team recently traveled to New Orleans to present their results to the American Association of Geographers during their annual meeting this past April. The project is currently focused on the campus community, but Bernhard does have plans to bring the experience to other parts of Long Island hit by Hurricane Sandy, such as Long Beach. 

The Category 3 Hurricane Landfall Virtual Reality Simulation is just one of several projects Bernhardt has launched since joining Hofstra in 2016.

Image Credit: Hofstra University

About the Scout

Bobby Carlton

Hello, my name is Bobby Carlton. When I'm not exploring the world of immersive technology, I'm writing rock songs about lost love. I'd also like to mention that I can do 25 push-ups in a row.

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