“LiveStrike” is arguably the coolest visual depiction of actual bolts of lightning striking the earth. It is also a useful tool because the lightning strikes are geographically exact and fixed in time. Reporters use it to pinpoint the actual bolt that burned down a house during a violent storm.
“LiveStrike” is an invention of Austin morning weatherman Shawn Rutherford (KXAN TV, NBC). It is one of a kind, and now it is going away.
“Well... it's been 10 years now and "LiveStrike" has come to the end of its contract,” Rutherford recently wrote on his Facebook page. “A product that I scribbled down on the back of some scratch paper back in 1999 and became the world's first live, 3d weather display product comes quietly to its end.”
Why, you may ask. The ten-year maintenance agreement between Rutherford and LIN TV [KXAN’s owner] is expired and not renewed.
Rutherford came to KXAN with a computer software background as well as TV weather reporting experience. Although he wasn’t really into video games, he was entranced by the technology. The games’ 3D depictions were high definition before HDTV. Rutherford ruminated and wondered if he could convert the concepts into programs he could use on the air showing weather features in motion.
The $100,000 cost for securing the rights to use specific game maker’s “engine” could have put an end to the project, but Rutherford was undaunted. “We checked our pocket change and realized were about $99,980 short. We were discouraged but not defeated, Rutherford says.
It took a literal lightning bolt to generate what eventually became “LiveStrike”.
One morning during a violent thunderstorm, there was an almost surreal moment when the KXAN TV newsroom glowed with an eerie, blue light for an instant followed by a deafening crash and darkness. The studios were took a direct hit. It barely made the newspapers, but the bolt did tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the TV station’s computers and electronics. It was one of those amazing moments I shall never forget.
It was also an amazing moment for Shawn Rutherford.
“I was walking from the weather office and halfway through our KNVA studio when it hit, and I saw the flash of electricity in the studio and hit the ground... the sound of the thunder was deafening. We picked ourselves up, evaluated the chaos of blown equipment and began the process of fixing or replacing all the broken gear,” Rutherford says.
“We had a lightning data display on our radar but since all of that had been burned up in the lightning strike, I couldn't show it... and that's when it hit me... let's start with something that NOBODY was doing... showing lightning in 3D.”
Development proceeded quickly despite push-back from businesses already in the weather graphics business. Right before Christmas, 1999, Rutherford made his presentation to KXAN.
“I contacted the management of KXAN and requested a demo. [See the demo at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QD97EP1k3Xw] I had shown a few people but really wanted to impress them, so we turned down the lights, brought “LiveStrike” up on a big screen TV and gave them the show. At the end of the demo, then news director Bruce Whitaker [The forward-thinking news director at the time] turned to me and said ‘How much?’
“The rest was history.” Now, it is history. “ Everything has its lifespan, Rutherford says. “LiveStrike” will slowly fade away without new data and maintenance.
The problem is that there is nothing nearly as good to take its place. Nothing. And the viewers are the losers.
What we need is a venture capitalist and a lawyer to back “LiveStrike” and reward Rutherford for his genius.
© Jim McNabb, 2010