EarthLabs for Educators > Hurricanes > Lab 6: Why Keep an Eye on the Barometer?

This page first made public: Aug 12, 2008

Lab 6: Why Keep an Eye on the Barometer?

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

Summary and Learning Objectives

Students graph the relationship between air pressure and wind speed in 2005's Hurricane Katrina and for the entire 2005 hurricane season. From their analyses, they come up with an estimate of the minimum air pressure that is likely to result in hurricane-force winds of 65 knots or higher.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • Use a spreadsheet application to generate linear graphs and scatter plots of air pressure versus wind speeds.
  • Interpret and compare graphs from a single hurricane and an entire hurricane season.
  • Describe the relationship between air pressure and wind speed.

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Context for use

Ideally, students would explore this relationship and master the analysis techniques early in the hurricane season so that they could monitor air pressure in tropical storms and make predictions about wind speeds. The activity requires a computer with a spreadsheet application plus access to a printer or electronic portfolio for students to save their work. Part A takes about 25 minutes and Part B & C take about 20 minutes.

Activity Overview, Teaching Materials, and Answer Sheet

Students use a spreadsheet application and the Hurricane Katrina Data (Excel 22kB Aug9 07) file to explore how air pressure and wind speed changed over time during Hurricane Katrina. They create a linear graph to illustrate how pressure and wind speed changed as Katrina went from a tropical storm to a hurricane and back to a tropical storm again. In Part B, students generate a scatter plot between pressure and wind speed for Katrina and for the entire 2005 Atlantic Hurricane (Excel 73kB Aug9 07) season. They add a trendline to quantify the relationship between the two variables. From their analysis, students estimate the minimum air pressure reading likely to result in hurricane-force winds and evaluate the validity of the quantitative relationship.

You may want to provide a hard copy of the activity sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 49kB Sep20 07) on which students can record their answers. A word processing version (Microsoft Word 35kB Sep20 07) of the activity sheet is also available should you wish to modify or add any questions. Finally, a

key of correct answers

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is available for grading student work.

Printable Materials

Teaching notes and tips

None to offer until testing is completed


Student-produced graphs, scatter plots, and interpretive descriptions will allow both students and teachers to assess learning.

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

Any difference in atmospheric pressure between two locations results in wind. Air always moves from an area of higher pressure toward an area of lower pressure. Further, the greater the difference in pressure, the faster the air moves. Thus, pressure (specifically the relative difference in pressure) is the fundamental control of wind.

Pedagogic Considerations

This activity builds quantitative skills. One of the primary methods to explore the relationship between datasets is by graphing them. Students graphically discover the quantitative relationship between air pressure and wind speed by creating two different types of graphs. Further, they have opportunities to evaluate the accuracy of the relationship they discovered.

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