Initial Publication Date: August 12, 2008

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. HURDAT2 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 HURDAT2 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 HURDAT2 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.

What's in a name?

  1. Has your name been used for a HURDAT2 storm? Use your browser's Find command to search the HURDAT2 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 HURDAT2 data to find out when storms were first named.
    • What were the first names used for storms? When did that pattern change?
    • In what year did storms first get names that are traditionally reserved for males?

Look for patterns

  1. Check out the top few rows of daily data beneath 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 Landfall identifiers (L, in the daily data rows). By visual inspection, can you estimate the percentage of storms that hit a U.S. coast?