InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Natural Hazards and Risks: Hurricanes > Instructor Materials: Module Overview > Unit 2: Hurricane Formation
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Unit 2: Hurricane Formation

Lisa Gilbert (Williams College), Josh Galster (Montclair State University), Joan Ramage (Lehigh University)

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

Students use a model—a forecast—to make an argument for a ship's captain in the path of a hurricane. In preparation, they work with a computer simulation to test the relative importance of the factors that influence hurricane formation.

Science and Engineering Practices

Developing and Using Models: Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems. HS-P2.6:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Systems and System Models: Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models. HS-C4.4:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Weather and Climate : Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns. MS-ESS2.D1:

Weather and Climate : The ocean exerts a major influence on weather and climate by absorbing energy from the sun, releasing it over time, and globally redistributing it through ocean currents. MS-ESS2.D3:

Weather and Climate : Because these patterns are so complex, weather can only be predicted probabilistically. MS-ESS2.D2:

The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes: The complex patterns of the changes and the movement of water in the atmosphere, determined by winds, landforms, and ocean temperatures and currents, are major determinants of local weather patterns. MS-ESS2.C2:

  1. This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

    • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
    • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
    • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
    • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
    • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.

  2. This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

    This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

    • Scientific Accuracy
    • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
    • Pedagogic Effectiveness
    • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
    • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

    For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.


This page first made public: Aug 15, 2014

Summary

Hurricanes form as the atmosphere and ocean interact to transport a tremendous amount of energy. Students will read about the conditions necessary for hurricane formation, how a hurricane evolves at sea, how it gains or loses speed, and the characteristics of a hurricane making landfall. Students will also use data to predict hurricane formation and to make recommendations, in the face of uncertain data, for a ship in the potential path of a hurricane at sea.

Learning Goals

After completing this unit, students will be able to:

  • Explain basic characteristics of tropical storms.
  • Apply an uncertainty forecast cone to make recommendations for a ship in the potential path of a hurricane at sea.

This unit is related to:

  • The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate (Ocean Literacy Principle 3).
  • The oceans and humans are inextricably linked (Ocean Literacy Principle 6).
  • Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet (Earth Science Literacy Big Idea 1).
  • Natural hazards pose risks to humans (Earth Science Literacy Big Idea 8).

Context for Use

After an introduction to hazard and risk, this unit will provide students with fundamental information for understanding how hurricanes work. This unit may be used with the Natural Hazards and Risks: Hurricanes module, or as a stand-alone introduction to hurricane formation. The unit may be used in any course discussing natural hazards, or can be modified to fit a variety of earth, atmospheric, and marine science courses. The unit is appropriate for introductory-level college students or as the basis for more in-depth class discussions on hurricane mechanics for upper-level students.

Description and Teaching Materials

Animated video on hurricane formation. Written and directed by Lisa Gilbert. Produced by Phoebe Hall (Williams '16). Video written and directed by Lisa Gilbert; produced by Phoebe Hall; distributed under a creative commons BY-NC-SA license. Download Hurricane Formation Video (MP4 Video 14.8MB) Details
Present or assign video on the basics of hurricane formation before class: How do hurricanes form? (MP4 Video 14.8MB Jul14 14). For students seeking a more advanced description, see Resources below. (5 min)

Present slides (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 7.3MB Sep25 14) on hurricane characteristics. (25 min)

Hand out Student Activity Sheet. (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 742kB Aug25 14) as an in-class activity or homework. (15 min)

Explain the scenario: It is Friday morning and your container ship in Miami is planning to sail for Galveston, Texas. It is normally a three-day trip, but a hurricane is predicted to be near Miami by Sunday night. What do you do? Explain the relative risks of staying in port or heading to Galveston on schedule.

Students read background on the sheet and work in pairs or alone for 5–7 minutes.

Summarize: forecasters use evidence from past hurricane tracks and produce a hurricane forecast cone to help governments, businesses, and individuals make decisions. A five-day forecast cone will not be as accurate as a three-day forecast cone, but both are based on data. There is uncertainty in making these difficult (and costly) decisions, but as the hurricane approaches, uncertainty decreases.

Assessment

Learning Goal 1: Explain basic characteristics of tropical storms.

  • Quiz question: What four conditions are necessary for hurricane formation?

Learning Goal 2: Apply an uncertainty forecast cone to make recommendations for a ship in the potential path of a hurricane at sea.

  • The Student Activity Sheet (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 742kB Aug25 14) can be used as an in-class activity (15 min) or homework. Explain the scenario: It is Friday morning and your container ship in Miami is planning to sail for Galveston, Texas. It is normally a three-day trip, but a hurricane is predicted to be near Miami by Sunday night. What do you do? Explain the relative risks of staying in port or heading to Galveston on schedule.

Answer Key to Unit Assessment Questions

References and Resources

Review the conditions needed for hurricane formation with the Create-a-Cane game. Make sure you follow all the steps until you create a Category 5 Hurricane.

A more in-depth description of hurricane formation can be found at NASA: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Hurricanes/ or NOAA: https://www.weather.gov/jetstream/tc.

Slate.com article about widespread misconceptions about forecast cones: "In Hurricane Forecasts, 'Cone of Uncertainty' Is Surrounded by Haze of Confusion"

Additional information about NOAA's forecast cones: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutcone.shtml

More about uncertainty forecast cones: http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/Powell/accuracy.pdf

SERC collection of hurricane visualizations

Daily updates of Hurricane Irene August 22-30, 2011 from NASA

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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 »