InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Natural Hazards and Risks: Hurricanes > Instructor Materials: Module Overview
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Instructor Materials: Overview of the Natural Hazards and Risks: Hurricanes Module

Module Goal: Students will use data to address the complex interdisciplinary problems of where, when, and how hurricanes happen, how land and human systems are affected, how to deal with uncertainty in forecasts, and both societal and personal responses to hurricane risks.

Summative Assessment: The summative assessment for the module involves an in-class essay asking students: What data you would like to have as a government official making the decision about whether or not to order an evacuation prior to a hurricane landfall? Explain the challenges of making such a decision to evacuate prior to hurricane landfall 1) from the perspective of a local government official, and 2) from your own personal perspective. Learn more about assessing student learning in this module.

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards. At the top of each page, you can click on the NGSS logo to see the specific connections. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more about the process of alignment and how to use InTeGrate materials to implement the NGSS.

NGSS in this Module

As a whole, this module provides students the opportunity to explore and analyze a variety of spatial, temporal, quantitative, and qualitative datasets associated with hurricanes and their impacts. Many activities are quantitative and make explicit connections to physical concepts of energy.

Unit 1Hazard and Risk

Unit 1 is an introduction to hazard and risk, risk calculations, and risk mitigation.

  • Activity 1.1: How could this parachutist minimize risk? Students commonly confuse the terms hazard and risk, but knowing the difference is key to any substantive discussion of the interaction between science and society. The difference between hazard and risk and the concept of risk mitigation are explored using a cartoon of someone parachuting over a volcano. (5–10 min)
  • Activity 1.2: Putting risk into context. People tend to exaggerate fairly rare risks (like plane crashes) and downplay more common risks (like car crashes). Having an accurate understanding of our risks from natural hazards, in particular, is important for making decisions in our own lives (like where to live) and for society (like building/maintaining evacuation centers in hurricane-prone areas). Risk is put into context with a short reading from the New York Times by Jared Diamond and class discussion. (10–20 min)
  • Activity 1.3: Calculating risk. Students learn a simple calculation for risk from hurricanes and compare different coastal locations. Estimate risk using a simple calculation and discuss a reading about risk. (20 min)

Unit 2 Hurricane Formation

How do hurricanes form? In Unit 2, students learn the processes behind the formation of hurricanes—including the interaction of the oceans, atmosphere, and land—and the conditions needed for hurricane formation and then apply what they have learned to a scenario.

  • Unit 2: Observations of storm characteristics. Using a video, PowerPoint slides and a simple exercise, students learn how hurricanes form and what happens when they come ashore, and they are given an example of the problems that an approaching storm presents. (45 min)

Unit 3 Hurricane Tracks and Energy

In Unit 3, students will examine hurricane tracks from recent and historic hurricanes and compare different hurricane seasons.

  • Activity 3.1: Plotting a storm track. Students learn map-related skills by reconstructing the path and magnitude of Hurricane Irene on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) map of the Atlantic Ocean. (20 min; intended as a homework assignment)
  • Activity 3.2: Hurricane tracker. Using an online tool, students follow individual hurricanes and interpret storm frequency in your area (or in a zip code of your choosing) since 1850. (25–35 min) Note: computer lab with internet access (or student laptops in the lecture/lab room) required.
  • Activity 3.3: Comparing hurricanes and hurricane seasons: Is this season above average? Students use NOAA data to calculate the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) for a hurricane and for a season. (15–20 min)

Unit 4 Hurricane Impacts

In Unit 4, students learn about the range of hurricane hazards to coastal and inland areas, and how conditions before a hurricane can alter impacts. One of these activities (each is about 40 minutes) can be chosen by the instructor, or groups of students can do each one and report back to the entire class.

  • Activity 4.1: Observations of storm impacts. Using PowerPoint slides and a video, students learn about the many impacts of a hurricane.
  • Activity 4.2: Quantifying coastal change using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data. Students sketch coastal changes using LIDAR data before and after a hurricane.
  • Activity 4.3: Fluvial impacts of Hurricane Irene on New Jersey. Students commonly think of hurricanes as having only coastal impacts, but Hurricane Irene (2011) caused significant damage in non-coastal states such as Vermont. With an inland example in this activity, students learn about how conditions prior to a hurricane can alter impacts. Students plot peak discharge and drainage area.

Unit 5 Hurricane Risks and Coastal Development

In Unit 5, students compare the predicted costs of evacuating from an approaching hurricane to the costs of not evacuating. Students learn about preparedness and how risks have changed over time from coastal development.

  • Activity 5.1: Hurricane risks and coastal development. Students calculate the cost of preparing for an evacuation and the human costs of not evacuating and use data to determine how risks have changed over time. (30–40 min)
  • Activity 5.2: Potential damage of hurricanes with increased coastal development. It is a common misconception that hurricane hazards are getting worse over time, but in fact, risk is increasing mainly due to shoreline development (and despite improved predictions with satellite measurements in the last few decades). Using historic and modern maps, students describe coastal development and associated risks from hurricanes. (10–15 min)

Unit 6Predictions and Evacuation

In Unit 6, students discuss the details involved with evacuating people from targeted areas, including the threshold for conducting evacuations and the issue of unnecessary evacuations, then examine a potential evacuation scenario.

  • Activity 6: Predictions and making the tough decision to evacuate in the face of uncertainty. Students participate in role-playing as various stakeholders in an evacuation decision scenario. (35–45 min)

Making the Module Work

For coastal areas, the module can be made particularly relevant using nearby examples. In particular, Units 1, 3, and 6 allow for geographic personalization. At institutions far from the coast, where students come from a variety of locations, instructors might allow students to use their hometown/state, assign students different states, or divide the class into East Coast and Gulf Coast teams, or selecting a place like Concord, New Hampshire, which students might not normally associate with hurricane hazards and risks.

For courses with limited time, activities within the module are independent.

To adapt all or part of the Natural Hazards and Risks: Hurricanes module for your classroom you will also want to read:

Adapting Module Materials to Other Courses

This module explores hurricanes in an interdisciplinary way. Oceanography, meteorology, geology, economics, political science, math, business, and sociology all provide insight into our understanding of hurricane hazards and risks. Students learn about the the formation, recurrence intervals, tracks, damages, and evacuation considerations from hurricane activity in the United States. Students use recent and historic data to make predictions and consider multiple perspectives.

There are six units in the module. Each unit is approximately 45 minutes long. Units are divided into shorter activities such that the entire module could be completed in six 50-minute periods or four 75-minute periods. The module builds to a role-playing scenario (Unit 6), but Units 1–5 are not prerequisites for this culminating activity. The module may be presented in either a laboratory or classroom environment with a minimum of required equipment. Several activities are particularly well-suited for homework if class time is limited.

The module is geographically adaptable for relevance and includes both coastal and inland impacts.

This module incorporates student-student interactions, whole class discussions, using data, and role-playing activities. If these methods sound challenging for your course, see the SERC resources about how to increase student participation, including:

For an online course, many of these materials can be used as-is, and discussion boards or writing assignments can take the place of in-person discussions. SERC also has resources to help you, including:

Only Activity 3.2 requires in-class internet access. Depending on computer access, the activity can be done in class or as a homework assignment.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »