Lab 9: Death and Destruction

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

Summary and Learning Objectives

Students search for images and video that illustrate the dangers that hurricanes pose to property and life. They consult Morbidity and Mortality Reports to find the common causes of death attributed to hurricanes and to discover the challenges to counting deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Students explore hazards from storm surge, high winds, and inland flooding and outline a plan that would prepare them to survive a hurricane.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • describe the dangers to life and property posed by hurricanes;
  • interpret reports to list common causes of death attributed to hurricanes;
  • explain the difficulties in making an accurate count of deaths attributed to Hurricane Katrina;
  • interpret the graphical results of a computer model of a storm surge and compare it to a simple physical model;
  • prepare an outline for being prepared to safely survive a hurricane.
Open the Student Lab »

Context for Use

This lab could be completed any time within the hurricane sequence. It could be assigned to pairs of students in a computer lab or as homework if students have sufficient Internet connectivity. Alternatively, the lab could be presented using one computer with a projector, complemented by hard copies of the reports that students read. An optional hands-on activity requires awareness of safety issues related to electricity and water; the activity could be shown as a demonstration or omitted.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

In Part A, students search for photos and videos of hurricane damage. Links to known sources of these resources are posted in the student activity. Students also skim reports from the Centers for Disease Control: they consult the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports for Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Floyd, and Hurricane Katrina. They also access reports of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes and consider factors that affect these statistics.

In Part B, students peruse NOAA's Hurricane Preparedness Pages to explore hurricane hazards and outline a safety plan. They also examine results of a computer model of a storm surge.

A Note About Flash -

This lab contains Flash-based interactives. Visit our Flash Information Page for directions and to test that your computer is set up for Flash.

If your school computers aren't set up for Flash, you can direct students to also visit the following link Hurricane Storm Surge Examples for a video from COMET/MetEd, which replicates the Flash animation of storm surges on the site visited in Part B. This link is available in the Optional Extension section of the Student page.

Printable Materials

  • Activity Sheet (PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 89kB Jan28 08) and Word (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Aug7 18))

Teaching Notes and Tips

It is a good idea to enforce a strict time limit on the searching for hurricane photos and videos, or students may spend all their time on that task. By asking them to choose a favorite or two of the ones they've seen, you'll come up with a list of good links that you can post.

The Morbidity and Mortality Reports may be upsetting to some students. While the content is not gory or sensationalized, the topic is still death. Use your best judgment to prepare your students appropriately for this assignment.


You can assess student understanding of topics addressed in this Investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think Questions.

State and National Science Teaching Standards

Additional Resources

If you're working with older students, this video with information about what driving through floodwater can do to a car may be interesting to them.

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