EarthLabs for Educators > Hurricanes > Lab 4: Putting Hurricanes on the Map

This page first made public: Aug 12, 2008

Lab 4: Putting Hurricanes on the Map

The lab activity described here was created by LuAnn Dahlman of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

Students select a storm from the HURDAT database and create its track in the easy-to-use online tool, Google Maps. The visualization they produce details the location and intensity of their storm through time. Afterwards, students access an online mapping tool to examine the locations and life cycles of hundreds of Atlantic storms.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • Develop visual representations of a storm from tabular data.
  • Explore the range of data compiled for Atlantic storms.
  • Observe the paths of historical Atlantic storms and discover which areas have been affected by these storms.
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Context for Use

This activity has students dig a little deeper into the HURDAT data by working with data for a single storm. It has them work through the mechanics of creating a storm track of their own so they have a solid understanding of the tracks when they move on to examining sets of prepared tracks. The activity moves students from examining a single storm toward making generalizations about storm paths and intensities.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

Students select one or more storms from the HURDAT database, and generate storm tracks. They build the track in Google Maps by adding placemarks to show daily details about the storm's location and status. Students also examine the Summary Report for the storm they plotted. Afterwards, students work with an online mapping tool to examine storm tracks for hundreds of storms. In the viewer, students note the decrease in intensity that storms experience over land.

You may want to provide students with a copy of the activity sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 81kB Sep20 07) on which to record their answers. (A word processing version (Microsoft Word 66kB Sep20 07) of the activity sheet is also available, should you want to modify or add questions. Finally, a

key of correct answers

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is available for grading student work.

Printable Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

Ideally, every one or two students would have a computer with Internet access for this activity. Alternatively, it could be completed as a participative classroom demonstration with one computer and a projector. If computer time is at a premium, students can use a printout of storm data and complete Part A on the Atlantic Hurricane Tracking Chart (Acrobat (PDF) 1.7MB Jul28 07).


Comparing student-produced storm tracks to the same storm track in the online map viewer will allow teachers and students to assess their skill and understanding of how storm tracks are generated.

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

NOAA's Frequently Asked Questions about hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical cyclones site offers a range of definitions plus answers to questions about tropical storms.

NOAA also provides a Glossary of Terms from the National Hurricane Center.

Pedagogic Considerations

The opportunity to use an online mapping tool to plot storm tracks instead of traditional pencil-and-paper methods will provide motivation for some students. The ownership that students develop by creating their own storm tracks encourages them to pay more attention to other visualizations of the same data.

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