Virtual Earth 6.2 released, with stunning clouds

Virtual Earth 6.2 has been released, with a whole host of new features.  Among them:

  • New imagery —  “Richer bird’s eye” and new 3D imagery, but I can’t find a list of what’s been updated.
  • Weather integration — Real-time clouds (see more below)
  • Localized maps — English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.
  • Near-matching — Helps find locations with alternate and similar spellings.
  • Landmark-based routing
  • Rich imagery for mobile users — Their screenshot shows an iPhone, but I can’t make it work on mine.  Maybe I need a specific URL?
  • One-click directions

The new imagery might be worth writing about, but I can’t find what’s new.  However, the clouds are very cool.  Fly down low in a city, look up, then wait a few seconds.  Pop!  There they are.

Unlike the clouds in Google Earth, these are fully 3D semi-transparent clouds.  Flying through them, they look almost real — it’s very impressive.There are a few downsides, though.  For one, they load in square tile areas.  If you fly too quickly, they’ll disappear until the next set loads.  Also, there is no way to leave them on and get a satellite view of an area from up high; if you fly very high above them, they simply go away to leave you with a clear view of the ground.

I’ll leave you with a short video demo of the clouds, shot by Frank Taylor at Google Earth Blog.  With it, you can really see just how cool this feature is.  He’s using a SpaceNavigator to fly through them, a tool which I strongly recommend for any avid Virtual Earth (or Google Earth) user.

Google creates a more generic “Hurricane Season 2008″ layer

Either Google was listening to our suggestion, or it was just pretty obvious — they’ve replaced the “Gustav” layer with a more genric “Hurricane Season 2008″ layer, under which they list individual layers.

The data isn’t overly comprehensive.  It’s essentially just a forecast track for each storm and any advisories that have been put out for it.  As Google points out (as we did, as well as Google Earth Blog), these tools work very well in conjunction with the “Clouds” and “Radar” layers.

I’m hoping they’ll continue to add more information to this layer.  Some other ideas include:

  • Alternate projected paths
  • Historical track for the storm
  • Radar data in the oceans (not just in the US)
  • Related webcams, as they did with Gustav
There’s a lot more that could be done, but in any case this layer is a great new addition.

New Gustav layer in Google Earth

Google has just added a new sub-layer to the “weather” layer titled “Gustav Data”.  This layer includes a variety of information about the storm, such as the latest advisories, webcams from around Louisiana and a forecast track.  Coupled with the existing weather layers (clouds, radar, etc), it makes for some useful information.

As Google points out, the “clouds” layer is about 1-3 hours behind, but the “radar” layer is only about 15-30 minutes behind.

In the screenshot above, I’ve turned on the impressive-looking radar layer and pulled up a traffic camera (those are some empty roads…).  In addition, you can see the forecast track of the storm with the red line heading off to the northwest.

It seems to me that a general “hurricanes” layer might have been better (will we get one for “Hanna”, then one for “Ike”, etc?), but they can always just add/remove them as necessary, I suppose.