Tale of Two Cities (and two hurricanes): Miami

Tom Juster
University of South Florida, Tampa
Created: April 18, 2012
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In this Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum activity, students use Excel to perform a analyze the risk posed by a category 4 hurricane to central Miami, and compare it to the actual damage produced by Hurricane Andrew, which struck south of the city. Using a large table of data that summarizes area, population, and housing statistics of the great Miami area by zip code, students calculate the property vulnerability of both downtown Miami and the area actually struck by Hurricane Andrew. They then extract data from the NOAA Historical Hurricane Tracks webpage to compute the probability of such a storm and then use the risk equation to compute the risk. The final tasks require then to consider the risk to other cities.

Learning Goals

Students will

  • Learn that the risk of major hurricanes is concentrated in a few locations.
  • (Re)learn the principles behind the risk equation.
  • Learn how estimates of property vulnerability can be made from zoned maps.
  • Learn how the probability of a hurricane can be estimated from data extracted from the Historical Hurricane database.

In the process the students will

  • Discover that Hurricane Andrew could have been much worse had it actually struck downtown Miami.
  • Practice Excel skills needed to manipulate data in large tables.
  • Reinforce concepts related to the risk equation.
  • Work with real data used to compute risk associated with one of the most costly natural disasters in US history.

Context for Use

This module was designed for use in the Hazards of the Earth's Surface service course at USF. It assumes that students are familiar with basic Excel operations, especially the use of relative and absolute cell references and functions. The topic of hurricanes and risk could be appropriate in courses in oceanography as well as geology.

Description and Teaching Materials

The module is a PowerPoint presentation with embedded spreadsheets. Click on the link below to download a copy of the module.

Optimal results are achieved with Microsoft Office 2007 or later; the module will function in earlier versions with slight cosmetic compromises. If the embedded spreadsheets are not visible, save the PowerPoint file to disk and open it from there.

The above PowerPoint presentation is the student version of the module. The embedded spreadsheet consists of a template for students on which students complete their work and answer the end-of-module questions, and then turn in for grading. Since this module is designed as a stand-alone resource, instructions for extracting and saving the embedded spreadsheet are included in the PowerPoint presentation.

This module is offered in two versions: a traditional SSAC version and a new auto-feedback/graded (AFG) version. The AFG version: (a) provides automatic and immediate feedback to incorrect answers, including formulas; (b) requires students to complete tasks sequentially by not allowing them to advance until they've completed a task perfectly; and (c) automatically computes a grade and encrypts it into a code the students submit to verify successful completion. The files needed for this version can be accessed here

Teaching Notes and Tips

This module is constructed to be a stand-alone resource. It can be used as a homework assignment, lab activity, or as the basis of an interactive classroom activity. It has been used as a mid-course module in Hazards of the Earth's Surface, an online service course at USF designed for non-majors, for the last two years. This module makes relatively few assumptions about prior geologic knowledge, except that students should be familiar with the concepts of recurrence interval and probability.


There is a slide at the end of the presentation that contains end-of-module questions. The end-of-module questions can be used to examine student understanding and learning gains from the module. The answer key for the end-of-module questions is found at the end of the instructor version of the module.

References and Resources

Hurricane Andrew, 16-28 August, 1992, by Ed Rappaport, National Hurricane Center (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/1992andrew.html)

Hurricane Andrew, from the National Climatic Data Center (http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/satellite/satelliteseye/hurricanes/andrew92/andrew.html)

NOAA Historical Hurricane Tracks webpage (http://www.csc.noaa.gov/hurricanes/#)