EarthLabs > Hurricanes > Lab 3: Putting Hurricanes on the Calendar > 3A: HURDAT Data

Putting Hurricanes on the Calendar

Part A: Check out HURDAT data


NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been keeping records of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean since 1851. HURDAT is the name for the official U.S. database of these storms. The early observations were made by ships or estimated by land-based observers. Now, satellite- and aircraft-based instruments measure and record numerous parameters to monitor these storms.
  1. Take a look at the official HURDAT database. The page will open in a new window.
  2. Scroll through some of the data to see if you can get a sense of what it showsthe most recent storms are at the bottom of the list.
  3. The sheer volume of information in the database may feel a bit overwhelming at first. Focus in on a single storm, then click back and forth between the HURDAT data and the key below. Get familiar with how the data in the header and trailer rows tell about the storm. Note that the daily data show the location, air pressure, and wind speed of the storm four times per day for every day it existed.
General key to interpreting HURDAT storm data

What's in a name?

  1. Has your name been used for a HURDAT storm? Use your browser's Find command to search the HURDAT page. Enter your own name or the names of a few friends or family members to find out if their names were ever used for a storm.
  2. Once you find a storm with an interesting name, interpret the data to find out about it. Record the name of the storm, the date it formed, and if it hit a United States coast or not. Also check the maximum storm intensity.

    Checking In Questions

    • Scroll through the HURDAT data to find out when storms were first named.
      Almost 100 years after they began keeping storm records.
    • What were the first names used for storms? When did that pattern change?
      They are the names for letters (A,B,C...) from the phonetic alphabet. These repeated names were used for only a few years. Can you guess why?
    • In what year did storms first get names that are traditionally reserved for males?
      The first storm ever named with a man's name was Bob.
    If you care to explore more about hurricane names, see NOAA's Worldwide Tropical Cyclone Names page.

Look for patterns

  1. Check out the header rows for about 10 storms, focusing in on the month when the storms first formed. Are the dates spread equally through the year, or do they seem to be concentrated in specific months?
  2. Check several of the crossing values (XING) in the header rows. By visual inspection, can you estimate the percentage of storms that hit a U.S. coast?

With over 13,000 lines of data in the HURDAT file, some of the trends are difficult to discern. You'll copy and import HURDAT data into a spreadsheet and analyze them to answer questions about the timing, frequency, and severity of tropical storms and hurricanes.


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