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

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 and is the one currently embedded in the student activity page. 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) 789kB Jun21 22) is provided for students to use during this activity. (The word processing version (Microsoft Word 160kB Jun21 22) 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) 92kB Jun21 22) 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

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) 789kB Jun21 22) and Word (Microsoft Word 160kB Jun21 22))
  • List of 2005 Named Storms (Acrobat (PDF) 92kB Jun21 22)
  • 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.


  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.
  • Movement.
  • Planetary wind systems.
  • Hazardous weather.
  • Worldwide observing systems.
  • Meteorological data depiction.
  • Wikipedia: List of Storms in the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season: This extensive resource provides information about all of the tropical cyclones that formed in the Atlantic Ocean during the 2005 Hurricane Season.
  • 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: Does global warming make tropical cyclones stronger?: 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 Online 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.