My fascination with weather, aviation, and flight simulation came crashing together in the most fantastic way as I decided to fly a hurricane intercept mission into Hurricane Laura and see what the new Microsoft Flight Simulator can do with its weather engine. The results impressed on nearly all fronts!
A large and powerful storm like Hurricane Laura is regularly flown into by hurricane hunting aircraft, specially equipped aircraft that take readings in a cross section along the storm and I wanted to do something somewhat similar. Of course the sim doesn’t have a hurricane hunter so my goal was just to see it and see what Microsoft Flight Simulator could do with their weather system.
Flying from Manuel Crescencio Airport (MMMD) in Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula, I set out towards Cancun (already in outer bands of the storm) with a vague plan to fly out into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico before exiting the storm on the other side near Cuba.
Initially I was unsure what I was in for as I flew near Chichen Itza and then towards Cancun. Brief side note, Chichen Itza, a Maya city built during the Classical-era is represented in the sim including the pyramid itself as well as several outlying structures and the visitors centre. Cool!
Soon after departing the Chichen Itza area I spotted the taller clouds building in the distance – was this the hurricane? Yes… it was.
Those clouds became more ominous as time went on.
And more ominous.
And then I was flying headlong into a Hurricane. I can only imagine the slight sense of dread that a powerful storm like this must illicit in the pilots who fly into them.
Icing at 20,000 feet became an issue and started to accumulate before I entered into the storm. At lower altitudes I was able to keep the icing at bay with exterior temperature in the Beachcraft King Air reporting as 32F.
Then I entered into the storm and the lighting fell off dramatically. After a few minutes I was much deeper into the storm where some internal structure including some breaks in the clouds let me have a look around before plunging back into the thick clouds.
Flying on the southern side of the storm ensured that I was staying out of the strong winds for my first intercept and a confirmation on several weather services (not least of which was Windy.com’s wind overlay) of the relatively mild conditions in that sector.
After about thirty minutes I emerged on the other side of the storm with the sun set and the stars out.
Unfortunately I ran into technical issues and the sim crashed (a couple of times actually – exception code 0xc0000005 for those interested) so this whole maneuver was a technically difficult one for my system and the current state of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Frustrating as that was, it almost doesn’t matter as I picked up where I left off a couple of times and continued on with the experience. In a couple of decades of flight simming and gaming in general, I have never had an experience like this one and it was too good to let a little thing like a crash to desktop to stop me.
Tonight I’m planning to do it again!
A very real storm
As of my writing this, Hurricane Laura continues to churn away in the Gulf of Mexico offering up more possibilities of flying an intercept. Although this storm offers some incredible possibilities for a fascinating simulation experience it is also a very real storm which is forecast to strengthen through the day today.
With some luck it’s potential to do damage will stay minimized, however, if you are in the path of that particular storm I hope you’re staying safe and monitoring your local weather services and the NOAA National Hurricane Centre for the latest details on the track.
A bunch of screenshots captured during my flights into the storm showing the transition from clear skies to the depths of the storm clouds. Not once did Microsoft Flight Simulator “jump” weather states the way I’ve seen other sims do – introducing clouds or a fog bank where seconds earlier there wasn’t one. Everything happened seamlessly.