The weather tomorrow: Virtual

The latest gizmo in the air is something called "virtual weather," and, at the recent Radio-Television News Directors Association convention in Minneapolis, a few vendors were selling threatening clouds and furious snowstorms.

One of them was locally based ScapeWare3d and its Virtual Forecast technology, which gives viewers an aerial view of their town and the likely "look'' of the clouds, sun and precipitation in the forecast. Virtual Forecast uses 3-D modeling that can be updated instantly and shown in real time over a Windows-based PC or converted into a movie format.

Separate from his company, ScapeWare3d founder Sam Scaman is chief meteorologist at KMSP-TV, the Chris-Craft station in the Twin Cities, where he'll begin his on-air beta test in November. He'll start licensing the virtual-weather system to stations after that, for about $50,000.

He credits Mark and Henley Quadling, South African-born twins who are wizards in 3-D visualization and computer simulation techniques. As a viewer, Mark Quadling sent Scaman a photo of his son frolicking in the snow, and Scaman thought the photo image so clear that he called to tell him he was going to air it.

From that call, he learned of the Quadlings' advanced-physics degrees and elaborate work in creating 3-D computer models-and a business was born.

At their small booth at the RTNDA convention, the ScapeWare3d folks showed off a "cloud'' that Henley Quadling had created the night before with the use of "fractals,'' which he described as "mathematical objects that have infinite detail." Translated, that means the cloud image keeps dividing itself, so that, in effect, it is never the same twice. The image, a viewer has to admit, is eerily realistic.