Lab 4: Putting Hurricanes on the Map

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

Summary and Learning Objectives

Students select a storm from the HURDAT2 database and create its track in the easy-to-use tool Google Earth. 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 HURDAT2 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 HURDAT2 database, and generate storm tracks. They build the track in Google Earth 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 through the Tropical Cyclone Reports options. Afterwards, students work with an online mapping tool to examine storm tracks for hundreds of storms. In the mapping tool, students note the decrease in intensity that storms experience over land.

You may want to provide students with a copy of the

on which to record their answers. (A of the activity sheet is also available, should you want to modify or add questions.) Finally, a is available for grading student work.

Printable Materials

  • Activity Sheet ( and )

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 your class is using the Chrome browser, there is an online version of Google Earth available. Some directions may differ slightly. Make sure to have students save their completed Storm Tracks for use again in Lab 8.

If you are unable to use GE, you can have students do a similar track using similar tools in Google Maps, although in order to save material and use all of the options, it requires logging in with an account. Google Maps directions for Lab 4A (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 188kB Feb28 19)

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

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.