Last year I did a little hurricane hunting off the coast of Mexico in Microsoft Flight Simulator and decided that with the latest tropical storm working its way up the eastern coast of North America that I’d try and repeat that experience. So I hopped into a King Air 350i along with a friend and we headed up into the heart of the storm to see what it was like.
Tropical storm strength
To give you a sense of what we were facing in the sim, here is some information on Tropical Storm Henri. Formerly a hurricane, the storm has moved into colder waters located off the coast of Long Island and currently has sustained winds at 45 knots and is moving northwest at 8 knots.
The storm is currently impacting the eastern coast of North America right at this hour. If you live in New York City, anywhere along the coast on Long Island, or in New England, you’ll have surely noted the winds, the rain and the potential for dangerous storm surge in the coastal areas. The United States National Hurricane Center has noted in Advisory 27 that tropical storm conditions are expected to persist until sometime tonight. Here’s the advisory in-case you want to reference it.
I hope everyone affected by the storm is staying safe!
Journey into the storm
With all of that as the backdrop, I flew with a friend into the heart of the storm in the King Air 350i repeating my experience from last year. How would Microsoft Flight Simulator’s weather systems pick up on the experience compared to last year? Well, we were set to find out.
Our flight plan took us from New York Stewart International Airport (KSWF), just north of New York City, and saw us set course for Manhatten using the Statue of Liberty as a waypoint. The next part of the route would take us on our own pathway along the coast of Long Island before turning north and landing at Boston Logan International Airport (KBOS).
Takeoff from KSWF had us seeing low clouds, light wind and lightning. We spent a considerable amount of time in IMC conditions with nothing visible and only our instruments telling us what was actually going on with the aircraft. As we climbed up through the storm we encountered icing conditions as well as occasional breaks in the storm clouds giving us a glimpse of the blue skies above.
Over New York we decided to descend and look at the city skyline. However, as we got down to 1000 feet we realized that we still couldn’t see the city and were relying almost exclusively on our G3000 displays and visualizations of the area to avoid crashing into the city (I don’t recommend flying like this at home folks).
I was hoping for some dramatic visuals of the city but the most I got was a few glimpses of some lower buildings knowing full well that taller ones were nearby. We decided to not press our luck and fly up and away from the challenging conditions.
It took a while but around 23,000 feet we broke out of the clouds to stunning visual effects as we left the core of the storm behind us. Although MSFS visuals are impressive here and the weather engine was doing an admirable job of presenting the storm’s structure, it seems to have shifted the core of the storm towards NYC a bit more than the real world version.
At this point, we were flying over what was the core of the storm in real life but leaving the core behind us in the sim. Nonetheless, the visuals were incredible. The odd break in clouds gave us a view of the ground below but most of it was covered in dense clouds.
The rest of our flight was uneventful except on approach to Boston Logan as visibility remained low and I was guided in by my instruments down to the very last moment where the runway suddenly appeared out of almost nowhere. That made of a bit of a hairy landing but a successful one nonetheless.
A few final thoughts
Not too much has changed with storm chasing from last year but I do want to reiterate how incredible the live weather system in Microsoft Flight Simulator is. It’s not perfect but this year it did a great job of giving us challenging visual and flight conditions with strong winds and turbulence to help backup those stunning cloud vistas. That’s a small step forward from last year where wind wasn’t always loading in correctly.
This is the kind of interesting gameplay that is so interesting and unique to this sim. Other civil sims have the ability to bring in live weather but they require plugins and custom configurations to make it work. For all of the challenges that this sim has been through, it does some things really well and flying into and out of storms remains an incredibly interesting experience.