EarthLabs for Educators > Hurricanes > Lab 1: Meteorological Monsters

This page first made public: Aug 12, 2008

Lab 1: Meteorological Monsters

The lab activity described here was created by Martos Hoffman of TERC and John McDaris of SERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

In this introductory activity, students view and interpret a satellite visualization movie of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season that shows a composite of Atlantic Basin satellite imagery and sea surface temperatures overlaid with hurricane paths and names. Through close examination of this movie, students develop a generalized understanding of the multiple systems and process that influence hurricane life cycles. A whole class discussion of the movie after the viewing will elicit questions that form the basis of later investigations in the Investigating Hurricanes unit.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate, through class discussion, proficiency in understanding and interpreting data in satellite imagery,
  • Formulate questions and testable hypotheses based upon qualitative analysis of satellite imagery and visualizations.
  • Describe general patterns of Atlantic hurricane life cycles: formation, path, duration, and intensity.
  • Describe seasonal variation in Atlantic sea surface temperature (SST) and prevailing winds.
  • Identify and describe the relationship between hurricane intensity and sea surface temperature.
  • Identify and describe the relationship between hurricane path and prevailing global wind patterns.
Open the Student Lab ยป

NASA Video of 2005 Hurricane Season
This image is the first frame of a NASA animation of the 27 storms in 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. The video combines satellite imagery, sea surface temperature information, storm track overlays to give a comprehensive look at this record-breaking season of storms. Latitude labels have been added to the image.[reuse info]
Provenance: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
Reuse: This item is in the public domain and maybe reused freely without restriction.

Context for Use

This activity acts as an introduction for students beginning a unit on hurricanes. It was designed for high school Earth Science students but is also applicable to introductory level students in college Geoscience courses. One 50-60 minute class period is required for the activity. Ideally, each student would have access to their own computer for this activity, but it is possible to have students working in groups and sharing computers. Downloading the video ahead of time and projecting it on a screen is an option if instant access for all the student computers isn't feasible.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

27 Storms: Arlene to Zeta: This page provides access to several different versions (in several formats) of a visualization showing a composite of satellite imagery, sea surface temperatures, and hurricane tracks from the 2005 hurricane season. There are also still images of each of the storms. We recommend using the version that includes all of the storm track information but without the narration (third visualization from the top) as the narration provides direct answers on issues that you want your students to discuss and ask questions about. This version is available in several different formats. The version of the video that is linked to the student activity page is the 512 x 288 pixel MPEG-1 (100 MB). You may choose one of the other versions to download and use with your students if necessary. Just don't have them click on the image of the video in Part A.

An activity sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 12kB Dec28 07) is provided for students to use during this activity. (The word processing version (Microsoft Word 27kB Dec28 07) of the activity sheet is also available.) "Check In Questions" are incorporated in the webpages that students go through and the Activity Sheet serves as a place for them to put their answers. A list of storms (Acrobat (PDF) 44kB Dec28 07) in the 2005 hurricane season is provided to give students information about which storms developed into hurricanes and how large they became. Finally, there is a

grading sheet

This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you would like access to this file, please enter your email address below. If you are new to the site, you will be asked to complete a short request form. If you have already been verified by the EarthLabs project, you will be taken directly to the file download page.

for use in checking students' answers.

After watching the video in Part A, give the students a few minutes to answer the first set of Check In Questions before moving on to the class discussion. One place to start this discussion would be to ask students to talk about their answers to the questions on the activity sheet or ask questions about things they didn't understand.

In Part B, students watch the movie again and focus on describing the tracks that hurricanes follow, the seasonal changes in those tracks, and how global wind patterns can influence them.

Printable Materials

  • Activity Sheet (PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 12kB Dec28 07) and Word (Microsoft Word 27kB Dec28 07))
  • Answer Sheet

    This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you would like access to this file, please enter your email address below. If you are new to the site, you will be asked to complete a short request form. If you have already been verified by the EarthLabs project, you will be taken directly to the file download page.

  • List of 2005 Named Storms (Acrobat (PDF) 44kB Dec28 07)
  • Zip File ( 172kB Jan16 08) of all Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • While it preferable that each student or team of students views this visualization from their own computer, one could alternatively project the movie for whole class viewing and discussion instead.
  • The movie used in this investigation can be quite a large file. A noted, smaller versions are also available, but the smaller image size makes it more difficult for students to successfully interpret. We recommend downloading the visualization the day before beginning this investigation to avoid long download wait times. You can download the desired file to your computer by right-clicking (option-click for macs) on one of the links above and selecting the option that allows you to save the target of the link to your hard drive.
  • Note that MPEG-1 files can be viewed using QuickTime and Windows Media Player. (For Linux users, NASA recommends using MPlayer). The high-definition MPEG-2 format can be viewed in Windows Media Player and MPlayer and MPEG-4 formats can be viewed in QuickTime.


  1. Collect the activity sheets and homework sheets and grade on effort and accuracy.
  2. Students should be actively engaged in the discussion of the video and contribute their questions. After the discussion, the instructor should collect the activity sheets to ensure that students spend time summarizing and developing questions about the video.
    Category 5 4 3 2 1
    Quality of Comments Timely and appropriate comments, thoughtful and reflective, responds respectfully to other students' remarks, provokes questions and comments from the group Volunteers comments, most are appropriate and reflect some thoughtfulness, leads to other questions or remarks from student and/or others Volunteers comments but lacks depth, may or may not lead to other questions from students Struggles but participates, occasionally offers a comment when directly questioned, may simply restate questions or points previously raised, may add nothing new to the discussion or provoke no responses or question Does not participate and/or only makes negative or disruptive remarks, comments are inappropriate or off topic
    Active Listening Posture, demeanor and behavior clearly demonstrate respect and attentiveness to others Listens to others most of the time, does not stay focused on others' comments (too busy formulating own) or loses continuity of discussion. Shows consistency in responding to the comments of others Listens to others some of the time, does not stay focused on others' comments (too busy formulating own) or loses continuity of discussion. Shows some consistency in responding to the comments of others Drifts in and out of discussion, listening to some remarks while clearly missing or ignoring others Disrespectful of others when they are speaking; behavior indicates total non-involvement with group or discussion

    Rubric source: Staples High School Social Studies Department

State and National Science Teaching Standards

Applicable California Science Teaching Standards

Earth Science - Energy in the Earth System

5. Heating of Earth's surface and atmosphere by the sun drives convection within the atmosphere and oceans, producing winds and ocean currents. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know how differential heating of Earth results in circulation patterns in the atmosphere and oceans that globally distribute the heat.

Investigation and Experimentation Standards

1. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other four strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:
d. Formulate explanations by using logic and evidence.

Applicable Massachusetts Science and Technology Standards (PDF - 1.3 Mb)

Earth and Space Science - Energy in the Earth System

1.4 Unequal heating of Earth and the Coriolis effect influence global circulation patterns and impact Massachusetts weather and climate. 1.6 Conditions associated with frontal boundaries and cyclonic storms and their impact on human affairs.
1.8 Ground-based observations, satellite data, and computer models are used to demonstrate interconnected Earth systems.

Applicable New York Core Curricula

Physical Setting/Earth Science (PDF - 135 Kb)

Standard 4 - Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.
Key Idea 2: Many of the phenomena that we observe on Earth involve interactions among components of air, water, and land.
2.1: Use the concepts of density and heat energy to explain observations of weather patterns, seasonal changes, and the movements of Earth's plates.
2.1b: The transfer of heat energy within the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, and Earth's interior results in the formation of regions of different densities. These density differences result in motion.
2.1c: Weather patterns become evident when weather variables are observed, measured, and recorded. These variables include air temperature, air pressure, moisture (relative humidity and dewpoint), precipitation (rain, snow, hail, sleet, etc.), wind speed and direction, and cloud cover.
2.1e: Weather variables are interrelated.
2.1g: Weather variables can be represented in a variety of formats including radar and satellite images, weather maps (including station models, isobars, and fronts), atmospheric cross-sections, and computer models.
2.1h: Atmospheric moisture, temperature and pressure distributions; jet streams, wind; air masses and frontal boundaries; and the movement of cyclonic systems and associated tornadoes, thunderstorms, and hurricanes occur in observable patterns. Loss of property, personal injury, and loss of life can be reduced by effective emergency preparedness.
Standard 6 - Interconnectedness: Common Themes
Key Idea 5: Identifying patterns of change is necessary for making predictions about future behavior and conditions.
Standard 7 - Interdisciplinary Problem Solving
Key Idea 1: The knowledge and skills of mathematics, science, and technology are used together to make informed decisions and solve problems, especially those relating to issues of science/technology/society, consumer decision making, design, and inquiry into phenomena.

Applicable North Carolina Earth and Space Science Standards

Competency Goal 5: The learner will build an understanding of the dynamics and composition of the atmosphere and its local and global processes influencing climate and air quality.

5.03 Analyze weather systems:
  • Movement.
5.04 Analyze atmospheric pressure:
  • Planetary wind systems.
5.05 Analyze air masses and the life cycle of weather systems:
  • Hazardous weather.
5.06 Evaluate meteorological observing, analysis, and prediction:
  • Worldwide observing systems.
  • Meteorological data depiction.

Applicable Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)

112.44. Environmental Systems.

(c) Knowledge and skills:
(8) Science concepts. The student knows that environments change. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze and describe the effects on environments of events such as fires, hurricanes, deforestation, mining, population growth, and municipal development;

112.49. Geology, Meteorology, and Oceanography.

(c) Knowledge and skills:
(13) Science concepts. The student knows the role of energy in governing weather and climate. The student is expected to:
(A) describe the transfer of heat energy at the boundaries between the atmosphere, land masses, and oceans resulting in layers of different temperatures and densities in both the ocean and atmosphere;

Applicable National Science Education Standards (SRI)

Science as Inquiry (12ASI)

Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
12ASI1.4 Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence. Student inquiries should culminate in formulating an explanation or model. Models should be physical, conceptual, and mathematical. In the process of answering the questions, the students should engage in discussions and arguments that result in the revision of their explanations. These discussions should be based on scientific knowledge, the use of logic, and evidence from their investigation.

Understandings about scientific inquiry
12ASI2.3 Scientists rely on technology to enhance the gathering and manipulation of data. New techniques and tools provide new evidence to guide inquiry and new methods to gather data, thereby contributing to the advance of science. The accuracy and precision of the data, and therefore the quality of the exploration, depends on the technology used.

Earth and Space Science (12DESS)

Energy in the earth system
12DESS1.3 Heating of earth's surface and atmosphere by the sun drives convection within the atmosphere and oceans, producing winds and ocean currents.

Additional Resources

Background Information

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season broke many records, including: most hurricanes in one season (15), most category 5 hurricanes (4), most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic (Wilma), first recorded European landfall of an Atlantic cyclone (Vince).

The movie used in this investigation shows all of the named storms that occurred during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It includes data collected from several NOAA and NASA satellites. Three different types of satellite data have been merged into this composite visualization: imagery showing landforms, sea surface temperature, and infrared imagery of clouds. These data are used to help predict the paths that hurricanes follow as well as hurricane intensity. Overlays showing hurricane paths and names have also been added to the visualization.

The animation begins by showing the regions of warm water that are favorable for storm development advancing northward through the peak of hurricane season and then receding as the waters cool. The thermal energy in these warm waters powers the hurricanes. Notice the sea surface cooling that occurs after a hurricane passes over an area. This is particularly noticeable for hurricanes Dennis, Emily, and Katrina.

For more information about the storms of 2005:

Content Extension

  • Hurricane Visualization Collection: You might use this collection of satellite images and visualizations to illustrate how these violent weather systems form and function, as well as their effects on the natural and human landscapes.
  • RealClimate: Hurricanes and Global Warming - Is There a Connection?: This essay by climatologists at the RealClimate Blog looks at what the current state of knowledge is regarding the links between Global Climate Change and hurricane intensity. The authors do a very good job distilling the complex field into understandable language and at the same time provide references and links to more in-depth information.
  • Investigating Hurricane Katrina In Your Classroom: This collection can provide you with digital resources and teaching ideas on various components of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The collection is designed to provide scientific information and resources to help students understand the science behind the storm. Topics include the geology and geography of the region, the climate, the human impacts and developments in the regions, natural resources, the aftermath of the storm, hurricane science and history and effects on human health.
  • Introduction to Texas Hurricanes: In this possible supplemental activity, students graph data from 20th century hurricanes that affected the state of Texas. Along the way they answer questions that ask them to interpret what they see represented on the graphs.
  • Wind Surge: Interactive On-line Applet: You could use this activity to have your students explore how water level on the windward and leeward side of a basin depends on wind speed, basin length, water depth, and boundary type.