In March, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune published Hell and High Water, an interactive story that raised an alarm about Houston’s vulnerability to coastal storms. Today, a team at the University of Southern California is launching a virtual-reality experience based on those stories. It’s called Hell and High Water VR.

The Houston Ship Channel is one of the country's biggest petrochemical refining centers. It’s also home to storage tanks that contain billions of gallons of oil and toxic chemicals. The ProPublica/Tribune investigation drew on cutting-edge research and supercomputer-generated storm models to simulate a storm scientists say has about a 1 in 350 chance of hitting the channel in any given year.

Inspired by this story and the research, JOVRNALISM, a hackathon-style class at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism set out to create an immersive VR experience based on the project.

Graduate and undergraduate USC students, led by Professor Robert Hernandez, traveled to Houston during Spring Break 2016 to do original reporting based on the Hell and High Water investigation. They developed new immersive storytelling techniques to illustrate portions of the investigation they felt were ideally suited for virtual reality.

After months of work, the students have produced Hell and High Water VR. There are many ways for you to experience it:

  • If you’ve got an iPhone, we recommend downloading the JOVRNALISM app (an Android version is coming soon). If you have a VR headset like Google Cardboard you can use it, but it’s not required.
  • You can also see it on your phone by going to YouTube. (This link should launch the YouTube app on your phone.)
  • You can see the project on your computer using any recent browser through the video playlist below. (Your browser must have WebGL enabled to get the 360 experience.)